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The Busy Prospect Researcher – Part 3: Time-Based Projects

In Part 1, I talked about an overview of time management in prospect research and prospect management. In Part 2, I discussed time management within the realm of proactive and reactive research as well as predictive and summary analytics. In this part, I’m going to talk about time-based projects, how I approach bringing together quick projects and long-term projects. All of these are pretty integral parts to my job, and I imagine they are in your shop too, especially if you’re a small department like I am.

In a Nutshell

This is Part 3 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 Part 2, she discusses how to organize your time for different types of research and analytics. In this Part 3, Dr. Hancks shows how she approaches bringing together quick projects and long-term projects. 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.

Quick Projects

Quick projects in some ways are great for making good use of small bits of time, but in other ways they are a great way to lose track of time and keep you from doing the bigger projects you need to do. So, it’s the sort of thing that’s good to keep on a running list of and set some limits for how you tackle it.

One thing that easily falls onto the quick list is assigning prospects. I’m talking about the actual assignment of them, not any of the background information or qualification to determine whether they are good prospects or not. In my shop, the fundraisers can ask to be assigned to anyone they are planning to work with if that person isn’t already assigned to someone else. In some shops, there are various criteria that have to be met before someone can be assigned. But in any case, if all the criteria have been met, it’s really better to just assign someone quickly when it comes up, rather than adding it to a list of “quick to-do” tasks, because that would probably take longer than actually doing it.

Most likely in your department there are other similar quick projects that are faster to just do than to add to a to-do list. These are the things that you might also see in the preview panel of your email system and not even open them if you don’t have time. So you might keep a folder in your email and just move them to those folders if you know they are quick things to do but you really don’t have time to do them right then. If you’re someone who can manage to only check email a couple of times a day, then you’ll have an easier time organizing projects by the time required to complete them.

As a general guideline, if it will take less than five minutes to do, it seems it is probably best to just do the task. If it’s longer than five minutes but less than half an hour, then add it to a list of really quick things, and if it’s up to two hours, add it to another list of slightly longer quick things. You’d be surprised how much you can accomplish in an hour or two! Anything longer probably won’t qualify as a “quick” project, but it’s a good additional section on your to-do list to fit in when your schedule allows it.

In the next section, we’re going to look at the opposite end of the spectrum and talk a bit about long-term projects. These are projects that you have to plan ahead for, and you will often have to work other projects around them from time to time.

Long-Term Projects

I have quite a few long-term projects, and I’m sure you do too. These are the things that either need to get done someday, or don’t actually have a timeline attached to them but would be great to do. I like to keep a list of these handy as well so that if I have time and am feeling inspired to work on them when I don’t have any other urgent things, I already have a plan. Having this plan also allows you to work on long-term projects in short bursts of time. Some of the long-term projects on my list include:

  • The annual Voluntary Support of Education (VSE) survey
  • Creating new prospect management reports
  • Revising existing prospect and proposal management reports
  • Updating information from assigned prospects from past years (to update data fields that we didn’t used to have a place for, but having longitudinal data will be really useful for analytics)
  • Discovering new potential prospects to suggest to frontline fundraisers
  • Predictive models for specific colleges or projects
  • Grant and corporate funding prospect research for specific colleges or projects

One of the larger projects I work on each summer is the predictive model for all of our alumni that scores them into twenty groups. I use DataDesk for this project, but you might use SAS, or SPSS, Excel, or some other software to build models. Though this is a pretty big task for me, there are parts of it that can be done in small parts and I do those preparations when I have smaller bits of time. For example, we have just over one hundred variables that we use in this model for all sorts of demographic criteria on each record. For each of these variables that I extract from the database, I need to write a formula to convert it into the format that DataDesk understands. These formulas take a while, but it’s something that can be easily started and stopped as time allows. Once I get to the part of the process where I’m building the model, I need bigger chunks of time because it’s harder to remember where I was in the process if I take a break.

I spend time each week working on both the quick projects I have on my revolving to-do list as well as the longer-term projects that I want to get done. By knowing what needs to get done and in what time-frame, I am able to fit pieces in wherever I have time. And I can often stay on top of lots of things at the same time without feeling frazzled by it. In the final part of this series, I’m going to talk about how to fit in community participation and professional development when you’re already feeling maxed-out with proactive research, reactive research, predictive analytics, summative analytics, quick projects and long-term projects. Because I truly believe there is a way to fit all of this in, and to work normal hours, and to spend each day feeling productive. See you next time!

Meredith Hancks

About the Contributor: Meredith Hancks

Meredith Hancks, EdD is the director of Prospect Research and Management for Western Illinois University in Macomb, where she’s been employed since 2007. Prior to her research career, she worked in annual giving at private liberal arts colleges in Minneapolis and Chicago. The part of this profession she enjoys most is the search for information and the subsequent ability to help frontline fundraisers be more successful in their work.
As a member of CharityChannel, she has contributed several book reviews as a We Review panelist, authored the following books for the In The Trenches series:
Have you recently joined a new organization or found yourself with a new set of duties that include prospect research? Do you believe in the power of data to make informed decisions to help your organization raise more money? Do you want to participate as a valuable member of the fundraising team? In Getting Started in Prospect Research: What You Need to Know to Find Who You Need to Find, Meredith shows you how to:

Set up your own research shop.
Conduct capacity and interest research.
Uncover hidden gems in your database.
Identify great new prospects.
Create a list of your favorite sources for various types of data.
Build relationships with fundraisers.
Determine when to go it alone and when to bring in the experts.

Fundraising Research Made Easy: A Practical Guide for Fundraisers for those who do frontline fundraising but do not have dedicated researchers or other support staff to find information they need about prospective donors. Most often, the entire development staff is composed of just a handful of people or sometimes even one person who wears all the hats. Meredith, who coauthored this book with Cara Rosson, helps you find a way to make research a routine part of your fundraising process. You will experience greater success in your fundraising when you learn more about your prospects and how to be strategic in building relationships with them.
Prospect Research is a Verb: Fundraising is the Subject is a prospect research manual that’s down-to-earth, easy-to-follow, and even fun to read. Meredith and coauthor Cara Rosson divide the manual into four Parts, each dealing with a specific aspect of project research. They make innovative use of the old-fashioned gift pyramid to provide a surprisingly helpful visual aid for examining the levels of research required for different types of prospects. Throughout, the authors offer helpful and interesting sidebars, and take the time to give you specifics.
She has a fourth book coming soon, also to be published by CharityChannel Press: Diving Into Research: Populating Your Prospect Pool.
Meredith currently serves as chair of the Best Practices in Prospect Development Subcommittee for the Association of Advancement Services Professionals. This team of professionals is committed to identifying and articulating best practices in all areas of prospect research and prospect management, using many of the principles included in this book. Meredith recently completed her term as Vice President of the Association of Professional Researchers for Advancement (APRA)-Illinois Chapter.
Outside of work, Meredith just completed her EdD in higher education administration at the University of Minnesota. She and her husband have twin sons who keep them endlessly entertained and provide a wellspring of joy. They are expecting their third child this spring. Her favorite quote comes from Henry David Thoreau:

If one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours. —Henry David Thoreau

Thus far, Meredith has experienced that to be true.

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