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Meredith Hancks, EdD

About Meredith

The Busy Prospect Researcher - Part 2: Managing Research and Analytics Activities

Hello fellow prospect researcher! If you’re like me and have a variety of duties on your plate and need to find ways to balance them all, I hope you’ll join me for the next few weeks right here in this article series. In Part 1, I began talking about the framework for time management in the field of prospect research and prospect management. In this second part, I’ll talk more about how to organize your time for different types of research and analytics.

In a Nutshell

This is Part 2 of a multiweek series on managing your time as a busy prospect researcher. In Part 1, Dr. Hancks began talking about the framework for time management in the field of prospect research and prospect management. In this Part 2, she discusses how to organize your time for different types of research and analytics. Besides being a busy prospect researcher herself, Dr. Hancks is the author of several books on prospect research published by CharityChannel Press. We invite you to post your thoughts triggered by this article in the Comment box below.

Proactive vs. Reactive Research

There are a lot of characteristics of individual shops that will determine whether you spend more of your time in proactive research or more time in reactive research. I tend to try to balance my time between the two over the course of a month or so. We just finished a campaign last winter, so although I’m doing some reactive research still, I will be focusing more on proactive research in the next couple of years as we start thinking of preparing for the next one. I’m already brainstorming projects for my long-term projects lists (which I’ll talk about in Part 3 based on thinking about what we’ll need for our next campaign.

When I’m asked by a front-line fundraiser to research an individual or company (reactive research), I plan to spend about two hours on the request. Sometimes I can fit it into my schedule the day they ask for it; otherwise I try to add it to the next day or later that week. If it’s going to be a few days, because I’m in the middle of a bigger project, then I will communicate that to see if the timeline fits their needs. I’ve found that having a 2-3 hour time limit for reactive requests is almost always a good enough amount. Hopefully, you’re not going to be getting requests for “the full profile” as your very first introduction to a particular prospect. Over the course of the cultivation phase, you might get three requests to do a little more research, and it will end up being a total of six hours or more as you add on to the information you found in the previous sessions. But once you start thinking you’ll need to spend six to eight hours to build a full profile on a prospect, you’re going to start feeling overwhelmed pretty easily. Sometimes you might need to spend a day here or there doing this, but try to make it an exception rather than a rule. It’s best to try to stick to the couple-hours time limit for requests like this, in my experience.

Proactive research tends to take longer, but many times it’s a project that can be done in smaller parts quite easily. So I like to keep a list of what I want to work on, and fit it in when I need a change of pace in my day. We did an asset screening of just over 100,000 of our constituents and my biggest proactive project with that is figuring out which of our unassigned prospects should be suggested or assigned to a development officer. It’s kind of nice to look at my calendar and say, “Okay, I’ve got a meeting from 10:15-11:30 today, but I can definitely work on these suggestion lists before the meeting and then again before lunch.” That way I feel productive, even with a meeting right in the middle of the morning. It’s important to have the kind of projects you can fit in your schedule is small doses otherwise it feels like a middle-of-the-morning meeting takes the entire morning and you get to lunch and feel like you haven’t accomplished anything.

And while we’re on the subject of feeling like we’re accomplishing something, we should talk a little about how to fit in time for both predictive analytics and summary analytics. I spend time on both, and I imagine that many of you do as well.

Predictive vs. Summary Analytics

I tend to spend some of my time with both predictive analytics and summary analytics throughout the year. Each summer, I build a model that includes almost all of our alumni and scores them for propensity to give. At the end of each year, my colleagues and I do some summary analytics to compare our results with other years. One great thing about doing the same type of analytics year after year is that to a certain extent some of the steps can be automated. So once you’ve spent a great deal of time developing a report or model that works, you can continue to use that in the future and take a much shorter amount of time to get the same results.

A couple of months ago, our annual fund director asked me about our annual predictive model and the approximate timeline it would take to get done. My response was “well, if there aren’t any challenges, then it can be done in three days if that’s all I do. But if I run into issues or cannot focus solely on that project, then it’s probably about two weeks.” Obviously, we’re hoping for the three-day option this year, but it’s possible it might take longer, especially if I get pulled into different projects that have a required deadline or if we run into challenges getting those done. The way I deal with this is scheduling two weeks every summer to work on our annual model. If I finish in three days, then I’ve got seven more work days to work on other projects. But if it takes all two weeks then I can take the time needed to finish it without messing up anything else in my schedule.

Summary analytics, generally, can be done more quickly and you often want them to be the same year after year. I look to spend time the first week or two of July every year, since it’s the beginning of our new fiscal year, summarizing the activity for the prior year. If occasional other requests come in during that time, I can find a couple of hours for those, but mostly I focus on analytics.

I’ve found that a good way to look at these bigger projects is to know that each summer I will be spending a lot of time on analytics, so I plan it that way. I do not schedule other work projects during the first part of the fiscal year, and requests for information tend to be a little fewer during the summer anyway. I work on other smaller analytics projects as time allows throughout the year. It’s best, for me, to keep a month-long calendar on my desk and write in time for all of the things I want to accomplish. I keep an online calendar too, but for these kinds of thing I prefer paper; it’s easier to see a bunch of things in reference to each other, all at once.

And there you have it. I’m big on keeping a long list, or chart of lists, of the different projects I want and need to accomplish and then building my weekly and monthly calendar schedules around taking time to address each of them. In the third part of this series, I’m going to talk about quick projects and long-term projects, and what to think about when fitting them into a packed schedule. I hope you’ll join me next time for that discussion as well.


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