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The NEDRA News blog features topical industry-specific articles submitted by our membership; book, publication, film, and resource reviews; op-ed pieces about emerging fundraising topics and issues; and information and news specifically related to NEDRA as an organization.  We hope these selections will be of interest to you - and we encourage you to share your thoughts and comments here!

NEDRA News was previously a quarterly journal of prospect research published by the New England Development Research Association from the organization's inception in 1987 until the end of 2011. Since 2012, we have continued to offer to you, our members, the same NEDRA News content you have come to rely on - but in a blog format tailored to meet the changing needs of our members, and featuring new content on a monthly (rather than quarterly) basis.

  • Thu, December 21, 2017 10:18 AM | Laura Parshall

    The NEDRA board had its monthly operations call on December 6, to discuss the upcoming conference, our 2018 programming slate, and other matters. This was also our last board call of the calendar year. Read on for more information!

    Also, a quick word from your humble editor: as winter begins in earnest (and boy, do we know winter here in New England), I would like to wish all of you and your families warmth and light and fellowship during the coldest and darkest time of year, and a bright and hopeful 2018!

  • Thu, December 21, 2017 10:07 AM | Laura Parshall

    If you haven’t yet booked your room at the Hotel Viking for #NEDRACon2018, do so soon! Rooms are going fast. This is already shaping up to be a great conference, but we need your help to make it the best it can possibly be. If you have an idea for an educational session, the Conference Committee urges you to submit it at the 2018 Conference Call For Presentations page. The NEDRA conference is gaining a reputation for having some of the best conference programming out there, and it’s because of our knowledgeable, enthusiastic members, who share what they know with their fellow prospect development professionals!

    Remember that if you want to attend the conference but are looking to defray costs, we have two great scholarship opportunities available: the Helen Brown Group-NEDRA Conference Scholarship (open to all NEDRA members), and the Heather Reisz Memorial Scholarship (open to those who have been in the prospect development field for less than two years, two are awarded). Both scholarships are need-blind. Applications are due by Wednesday, January 31. Apply today!

    Last but not least, we are happy to announce that a karaoke DJ has been secured for #NEDRAAfterDark. Join your fellow conference attendees for some socializing and decompressing on Thursday night, after the first day of the conference is done!

  • Thu, December 21, 2017 10:00 AM | Laura Parshall

    The Panama Papers created a huge buzz when they came out. Now, the Paradise Papers have increased that buzz to a roar. This month, Ian Wells of Ian T. Wells and Associates takes us inside these informational gold mines to learn about what they mean for the wealthy, and for those of us who research them.

    Secrets of the Elite: What the Paradise Papers and the Panama Papers Reveal About the Rich

    by Ian Wells

    The recent disclosure of the Paradise Papers – a group of documents pertaining to offshore investments made by politicians, corporations, universities, and high net worth individuals – focused a spotlight on some of the more clandestine practices of the rich and famous.  When viewed in tandem with the Panama Papers that were released in 2016, these leaks jointly contain roughly 25 million documents regarding the investments of at least 334,488 entities.  Although teams of investigators and journalists will continue to dig through these documents well into the foreseeable future, it may be years before the full scope of these leaks is fully understood.

    A few of the revelations from these documents have already forced the resignation of Sigmunder Gunnlaugsson, the former Prime Minister of Iceland, while others have embarrassed hundreds of politicians, celebrities, and organizations.  David Cameron, the former Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, was at the forefront of an effort to “fight the scourge of tax evasion and aggressive tax avoidance” at a G8 conference that was held in 2013.   We now know, however, that he is a beneficiary of Blairmore Holdings, Inc., a Panamanian corporation that was originally created by his late father and had $31 million in assets as of 2016.  Because of its status as a foreign company doing business in Panama, none of Blairmore Holdings’ profits have been subject to taxes in the U.K.

    Despite the hypocrisy of calling for an end to tax evasion while simultaneously holding tens of millions of dollars in an offshore venture, it appears that Mr. Cameron’s investment activities did not violate either British or Panamanian law.  Indeed, Mossack Fonseca – the Panamanian firm at the heart of the Panama Papers – marketed itself to investors by offering creative wealth management solutions that allowed clients to skirt tax laws without actively violating them.  While there are scenarios in which the individuals and organizations named in these leaks have blatantly engaged in illegal activities such as money laundering, fraud, and bypassing international sanctions, there are many others in which investors participated in morally dubious yet technically legal schemes to reduce their taxable income.    


    What may be of greatest interest to prospect development professionals are the insights these disclosures have revealed regarding the techniques some high net worth individuals (HNWIs) have used to minimize their exposure to taxes.  The wealth management techniques detailed in the Paradise and Panama Papers speak volumes about the people who have the means and the inclination to use them.  As researchers seek to attain a greater understanding of the lives of the rich and famous, there are some generalities that may be important to bear in mind.


    1) The World is Not Enough

    It has been said that “millionaires see the world as a playground, while billionaires see the world as a proving ground.”  During an interview with hedge fund legend Seth Klarman, a journalist once inquired why Mr. Klarman did not simply retire after earning more than $1 billion in income in a single year.  Mr. Klarman countered that such a mentality revealed why the journalist would never make $1 billion.  While someone living on a prospect researcher’s modest salary may be inclined to think that HNWIs have more than enough money at their disposal, many affluent prospects do not perceive themselves as being rich enough.  For many HNWIs, offshore investments provide a path for protecting their wealth from taxation, which is to be avoided as much as possible regardless of the funds at their disposal.

    Queen Elizabeth II is no stranger to status or wealth.  In addition to serving as the Queen of the United Kingdom, she is also honored as the Head of the Commonwealth of Nations, a polity which consists of 2.4 billion citizens around the globe.  Her personal net worth was estimated at ₤360 million by the Sunday Times Rich List 2017, and she has use of The Crown Estate, which had assets worth an estimated ₤12 billion as of 2016.  It may be an understatement to suggest that Her Royal Highness enjoys a comfortable lifestyle.  Nevertheless, records from the Paradise Papers indicate that her private estate, the Duchy of Lancaster, invested roughly ₤5.7 million in the Dover Street VI Fund, a tax-sheltered limited partnership based in the Cayman Islands.  Furthermore, the Duchy of Lancaster invested an additional ₤5 million into a Bermudan nontaxable fund called the Jubilee Absolute Return Fund Limited.  In response to the controversy resulting from the Paradise Papers, Queen Elizabeth’s advocates correctly noted that she is exempt from the U.K.’s tax laws by virtue of being the kingdom’s sovereign, and that she was not involved in the day-to-day operations of her private estate.  Nevertheless, it is interesting that she entrusted her private estate to managers who hid some of her assets from the British government, and that she has clandestinely profited from these investments since 2005.

    Queen Elizabeth is far from the only prominent individual named in either the Paradise Papers or the Panama Papers.  Madonna is reportedly a partial owner of an offshore company specializing in medical supplies.  Keira Knightly has invested in a real estate firm based in the tax haven of Jersey.  Soccer great Lionel Messi acquired a 50 percent stake in Mega Star Enterprises, a shell company through which he allegedly evaded €4.1 million in taxes.  Jackie Chan was listed as the owner of no less than six companies managed by Mossack Fonseca, the company at the heart of the Panama Papers.  Even Emma Watson of Harry Potter fame secretly purchased real estate through an offshore company based in the British Virgin Islands.

    Offshore investments are not just appealing to affluent individuals, but to very successful companies as well.  Apple, a company whose annual revenue exceeds the gross domestic product of many sovereign nations, developed a complex system of offshore structures in Ireland to hide billions of dollars from taxation.  In 2015, when Ireland caved to pressure from the European Union to fix its corporate tax loopholes, Apple abruptly moved two of its Irish subsidiaries, Apple Operations International and Apple Sales International, to the U.K. Crown Dependency of Jersey.  Similarly, Nike transferred ownership of its famous “Swoosh” trademark to a Bermuda subsidiary, Nike International Ltd.  The transfer allowed the subsidiary to effectively hide what would have been otherwise-taxable royalty profits for a company based in Oregon, where the firm’s actual headquarters is located.  In 2014, Nike transferred ownership of the trademark to Nike Innovate CV, a limited partnership in the Netherlands, where a limited partnership’s principals do not owe any taxes if they do not reside in the country.

    In their defense, corporations typically note that everything they do is legal, and that they have a duty to maximize earnings for their shareholders.  Some individuals that have been named in the leaks have stated they are either uninvolved in or do not understand the management of their investments.  After being accused of tax evasion, Lionel Messi testified to a judge: “I do not look at what I am signing when my father tells me to sign…I do so with my eyes closed.”  A representative for Emma Watson claimed her decision to invest in an offshore company was made solely for privacy purposes and had nothing to do with the tax benefits she received.  Whatever the truth of their respective claims, the defenses provided by some of the parties named in the Paradise and Panama Papers show no sense of guilt.  It is possible that many of the people so named do not perceive themselves as individuals who did not pay their fair share in taxes, but rather as people just trying to make the most of what they have.  

    As prospect researchers evaluate the gift capacities of affluent constituents, it may easy to assume that someone with a net worth of $25 million or more knows that he or she is rich.  But all too often, we hear the same refrain echoed following a qualification visit: “they just can’t afford to make a gift right now.”  Perceptions of wealth may differ across income levels, and although a millionaire may seem rich in the eyes of a researcher, that same millionaire may think of themselves as “struggling” relative to industry peers and competitors.  Simply because a person is exceptionally wealthy relative to 99% of the population does not mean that person will feel like he or she is wealthy, particularly if that person is struggling to keep up with the remaining 1%.

    2) Hiding Wealth Knows No Ideology

    In today’s hyperpartisan environment, it may be easy to assume that the people named in the Paradise and Panama Papers may belong to one ideology or another.  Yet the people engaged in these offshore ventures come from all political, religious, and ethnic backgrounds.  There seem to be few shared philosophies that are consistent for all of the parties that were disclosed in the leaks.  In some cases, the only commonality between individuals is wealth.  

    George Soros and Jean-Marie Le Pen do not have many political views in common.  The former is a survivor of Nazi-occupied Hungary who has provided billions of dollars in philanthropic support to progressive causes and initiatives to reduce poverty worldwide over the past four decades; the latter is a Holocaust-denier who called for the internment of people infected with HIV, complained that France’s World Cup team wasn’t White enough, and allegedly tortured Muslim civilians during the Algerian War.  Despite having almost nothing in common, both Soros and Le Pen see the virtue of protecting their personal wealth.  Le Pen allegedly used his former butler, Gerald Gerin, to establish a shell company called Balerton Marketing Ltd. in order to stash away millions of dollars of cash and gold bars in an offshore tax haven.  Soros established three ventures – Soros Finance, Inc. in Panama; Soros Holding Limited in the British Virgin Islands; and Soros Capital in Bermuda – whose financial ties to Manhattan-based Soros Fund Management LLC are murky at best, and Soros’ spokesperson has declined to speak on the matter.  It should be noted that, ironically, the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists that first obtained the Panama Papers has received some of its funding from Soros’ Open Society Institute.    

    Paul Hewson and Wilbur Ross are two other individuals named in these scandals.  Mr. Hewson, who is better known by his stage name, Bono, serves as the charismatic frontman for the rock band U2, whereas Secretary Ross serves as the Secretary of Commerce for the United States.  Both individuals have been prominently involved in matters pertaining to debt, albeit from different perspectives.  Mr. Hewson, for example, has been a tireless advocate for debt relief for developing nations.  Secretary Ross, however, made his millions by acquiring heavily-indebted companies and then selling them each at a profit.  

    Both Hewson and Ross have come under scrutiny as a result of the Paradise Papers.  Documents revealed that Mr. Hewson used a Maltese company called Nude Estates to acquire an ownership stake in the Ausra Mall in Utena, Lithuania in 2007.  In 2012, ownership of the company was transferred to a separate, Guernsey-based entity named Nude Estates 1.  As a foreign investor in a Maltese company, he would have only paid 5% tax on any profits.  Furthermore, no tax is paid on corporate profits for companies based in Guernsey.  Secretary Ross, meanwhile, was revealed to have invested in a shipping company, Navigator Holdings, that was tied to Kirill Shamalov, the son-in-law of Vladimir Putin.  These investments were particularly problematic due to the Secretary’s failure to disclose them during his confirmation hearings before the U.S. Senate.    

    The variety of individuals named in the Paradise and Panama Papers prove that there is no single “type” of person who is involved in offshore investments.  Socialists, neo-fascists, rock stars, politicians, actors, and professional athletes have all been revealed to have participated in such tax-saving plans.  It is therefore impossible to make an educated guess as to whom may be active in making similar investments in the future.  When evaluating a prospect’s wealth, we cannot know for certain whether that prospect may be involved in similar ventures.

    3) Dispelling the Myth of Calculating Net Worth

    Perhaps the greatest takeaway that a prospect development professional can take from these financial disclosures is that we cannot presume that we can accurately determine a prospect’s net worth.  None of the financial revelations from the Panama or Paradise Papers would be known to the public if not for the leaks.  It reasonable to conclude that there are countless other figures involved in clandestine investments that have not been disclosed at this time.  If these prominent individuals could successfully hide their assets from the tax-collection agencies of sovereign governments, what chance does a plucky prospect researcher have of identifying and confirming all of a prospect’s assets?

    This is not to suggest that we cannot share the net worth estimates that we find in the course of our research.  If a person’s net worth is reported to be a certain figure in Forbes, the Rich Register, or some other source, it is certainly noteworthy to share such information in a research report.  But we should not assume that we have the resources to determine a prospect’s true net worth simply by looking at visible assets such as real estate or stock holdings.  As the Paradise and Panama Papers have shown, there are many venues with which to hide one’s assets.  It is perfectly feasible that a prospect with $10 million in visible assets in the states may have untold assets secured through shell companies and offshore ventures.  The best that we can do is to base our capacity ratings off of visible assets, and underscore that the capacity rating is based on a minimum estimate of a prospect’s wealth.  As the revelations of these dual leaks have shown, affluent individuals have demonstrated the propensity and the ability to hide their wealth from the world’s most powerful governments for decades.  And although some people have been embarrassed or even implicated by these revelations, there are likely many others whose true wealth is known to only a select few.

  • Thu, December 21, 2017 9:48 AM | Laura Parshall

    While December has been (and will continue to be) quiet with regards to NEDRA programming, our Programming Committee has a number of great opportunities for education and networking planned for 2018. On January 12, join Ian Wells for his presentation of "The Road Ahead: Campaign Planning and Prospect Development" at Salem State University. On January 19, Matt Bouse will be presenting on corporate and foundation research at the Dana Farber Cancer Institute. Next up, on January 26, Bill Gotfredson and Dave Owens will help you learn to mine SEC filings for informational gold at Boston Children's Hospital. Later on, there will be a Think Tank on small shop research and management; a presentation on donors from VC, PE, and family offices; a presentation on Asian research; and more! Visit the Upcoming Programs page for more information, or to register for these programs.

  • Thu, December 21, 2017 9:43 AM | Laura Parshall

    In this article from the Spring 2011 NEDRA News, Nancy Faughnan discusses lawyer compensation. If you're not quite sure on what it means to be an equity partner versus a regular partner, read up here, and unravel the mysteries.

    Beyond the AmLaw Rankings.pdf

  • Fri, December 01, 2017 2:44 PM | Laura Parshall

    The NEDRA Board held its in-person meeting on November 6. Among the subjects discussed were board nominations, upcoming programming, and the 2018 conference. We'd like to encourage everyone once again to fill out the board nomination form if they are interested in joining the board next year, or if they know of someone else who would be an asset to the board! Remember, we will have six people rotating off the board this summer, and we need YOU, our members, to step up and take their places.

    Read on for more NEDRA news!

  • Fri, December 01, 2017 2:34 PM | Laura Parshall

    As a profession, prospect research is still relatively young, but it's a profession that has seen a lot of growth and change over the years. In this article, Pamela McCarthy of Northeastern University highlights some changes she's seen over the course of her own career.

    The Changing Role of the Prospect Researcher

    by Pamela McCarthy

    When I first started as a prospect researcher 17 years ago, it was pretty straightforward. Fundraisers got appointments with prospects, and asked me to research them and write profiles to help prepare them for the meeting. The research itself was involved, and most of my work was focused on determining a prospect’s capacity, philanthropic interests and inclination.


    This has changed considerably over the years. As prospect researchers, we still write research, but the way we do it and when we do it has changed. Screenings are a huge part of this. Remember the old days, when you’d get a small skyscraper of paper printouts and a handshake? Now screenings are more targeted. They can be done in a more focused way and on a rolling basis.


    Screenings can help lead us to look for the not so hidden gems. Questions then arise: Who are the high-net worth prospects in our universe? Who are the people outside of our donor pool most likely to support our programs and initiatives? How can we connect these people with our organizations? Who are the best people and what are the best ways to approach them?

    Data analytics has come to play a larger role in our work and help us answer those questions. Maybe we’re not all data scientists, but more and more of us are familiar with the concepts of data science. Researchers need to make sense of data to find the most likely and best prospects in their organization’s pool. We need to then strategize about how to look at the data and prioritize which data points to use in finding our next best prospects or prospects to screen. Creative ways of thinking how to pull data in a quest to find good prospects for specific projects and programs at our organizations has become a staple in our jobs.

    This brings us to prospect management. Although we are not managing fundraisers and fundraisers don’t answer to us, we still have to know about best practices for pipeline management, understand the metrics of our organizations, and present a map of where the fundraisers currently are and where they need to be. We review portfolios, and approach this from different angles, using our own knowledge and the fundraisers’ to help determine who is best to cultivate.

    A big part of being a researcher is understanding what the fundraisers really need. When I take a few minutes to talk with the fundraisers, it can save me hours of work. Qualifying a prospect in the field isn’t going to require the same kind of research as preparing for a solicitation. Sometimes the fundraiser simply wants to know something specific, such as the prospect’s philanthropic giving. Ask yourself: what does the fundraiser truly need to get the job done? Talk to fundraisers to figure out what they need and deliver it.

    Relationship building and communication is key to being an effective prospect researcher. It’s certainly easier to ask fundraisers about what they need and why they need it when you have a good relationship. I’ve done this in several ways. I meet regularly with one fundraiser I support. He works across campus, so it easier for us to meet for a half an hour. We talk about what is coming up and what he needs. Other fundraisers work on the same floor as I do, making it easy for me to knock on their door and check in with them. I meet fundraisers for coffee as well. Sometimes we veer off the subject of work and talk about other things. I get to know them and they get to know me. This helps build trust.

    Communication is important. Years ago, I was asked to find out if a list of people were married. When I asked why, I learned it was because they wanted to know how to address the thank you notes. I pointed out that it would take a lot of time and likely be fruitless, and that it was fine to address the thank you notes to the person who sent the gift. I also suggested that we use this as an opportunity to reach out to prospects. Staff and volunteers could call them to thank them for their gifts. Having a conversation with a donor could uncover relationship statuses and other things about the donor, such as why the organization was important to them.

    Our job as researchers are still focused on finding information, but we are also focused on getting the right information to fundraisers, helping them manage their work, finding prospects, and understanding what it is they need.

  • Fri, December 01, 2017 2:24 PM | Laura Parshall

    Thanks to everyone who attended the Residential Real Estate Review on November 7, and the Research Basics Bootcamp on November 17! While things will be quiet with regards to NEDRA programming from now until the end of the year, we already have a great slate of programming lined up for the start of 2018.

    On January 12, Ian Wells will be presenting on "The Road Ahead: Campaign Planning and Prospect Development" in Salem, MA. If your organization is in a capital campaign or about to start one, you won’t want to miss this! On January 19, Matt Rouse will present on corporate and foundation relations in Brookline, MA. We know that this is a subject many people have wanted to learn more about, so we hope this will be very useful and educational! Then, join David Owens and Bill Gotfredson in Boston for a presentation on understanding and utilizing SEC filings. Unravel the mysteries of restricted stock, and more!

    Later on in the year, we’ll have sessions on donors from private equity, venture capital, hedge funds, and family offices; researching prospects in Asia; and even…presentations! Yes, Dale DeLetis will be reprising his small-group session on effective public speaking. If a lack of confidence in public speaking is all that’s preventing you from sharing your treasure trove of knowledge with your colleagues and fellow NEDRA members, this is the session for you!

    More information on the programs mentioned here, as well as registration forms, can be found on the Upcoming Programs page.

  • Fri, December 01, 2017 12:50 PM | Laura Parshall

    Although winter hasn't even begun, we're already looking ahead to spring and the 2018 conference in Newport. Remember, if you're planning to attend, our hotel block is selling out FAST. Please be sure to book your room as soon as possible! See the Annual Conference page for directions on making your reservation.

    Are you new to the prospect research, management, or analytics community? Been in the field for a while but concerned about the cost of attending the annual conference? NEDRA invites you to apply for a scholarship! Thanks to generous donors, we are thrilled to provide the following scholarship opportunities for the conference. Two types of scholarships are available to defray conference costs:

    The Heather Reisz Memorial Scholarships for newer staff:

    With support from many donors (including Heather's family and many NEDRA members), NEDRA established the Heather Reisz Memorial Scholarships in honor of one of NEDRA's most active and beloved members, Heather Reisz, who passed away in 2013.

    Who is eligible? These scholarships, awarded to two recipients, are intended for those who have been in prospect research (or a related field) for less than two years.

    What is covered? The cost of registration and lodging for the 2018 Annual Conference and pre-conference Research Basics Bootcamp (to be held on Wednesday, April 25, 2018 at Hotel Viking), as well as a one-year NEDRA membership. In addition, travel expenses will be reimbursed up to $300.

    This scholarship is need-blind and applications, including a letter of recommendation, are due by Wednesday, January 31, 2018.

    To learn more about and apply for the Heather Reisz Memorial Scholarships, please visit NEDRA's Heather Reisz Memorial Scholarship page. For more information on Heather, her life, and her legacy, please visit her memorial page.

    The 2018 Helen Brown Group-NEDRA Conference Scholarship:

    With immense gratitude to NEDRA member and industry mentor Helen Brown of The Helen Brown Group, NEDRA is pleased to offer a scholarship opportunity to one NEDRA member of any length of service who wishes to attend our annual conference! Helen generously provided this scholarship for both the 2016 and 2017 conferences, and the NEDRA community appreciates her support again for 2018. 

    Who is eligible? All NEDRA members are welcome to apply!

    What is covered? The Helen Brown Group-NEDRA Conference Scholarship covers the cost of registration for one individual for the 2018 NEDRA Conference (not including the pre-Conference Bootcamp), plus the cost of lodging and reimbursement of travel expenses up to $300.

    This scholarship is need-blind. Applications, including a letter of recommendation, are due by Wednesday, January 31, 2018.

    To learn more about and apply for this Scholarship, please visit the Helen Brown Group-NEDRA Conference Scholarship page. 

    Please remember: Both scholarships require a letter of recommendation, so please plan accordingly to meet application deadlines.

    Please apply today for one of these great opportunities! Our organization would not continue to grow and thrive without the involvement and support of our members. We are happy to offer scholarships each year to help bring new participants to our conference and to see first-hand the value of NEDRA membership, programming, and active involvement! We look forward to hearing from you.

  • Fri, December 01, 2017 12:45 PM | Laura Parshall

    While education and healthcare organizations have existing prospect pools in their alumni and patients, respectively, other kinds of organizations, such as museums or cultural organizations, can find it more difficult to find new prospects. In this article, Renana Greenberg Kehoe of the Harvard Art Museums gives some tips for growing your prospect pool.

    Identifying Prospects without Alumni or Patients

    by Renana Greenberg Kehoe

    There was a great piece on display at the Institute of Contemporary Art a few years ago by the artist Tara Donovan. Donovan used thousands of pins to build a large cube that was taller than most kids walking into the gallery. Sometimes searching for prospects without that database of existing connections can feel like searching for that perfect pin in a giant mass (and they all look the same on the surface!). Having worked on prospect research and identification in museums in the past, I have often had conversations with others in our field about where we get our prospects. Museums and other cultural organizations do not have an alumni base or a grateful patients pool, so where can we look for prospects? Below is a list of the top five sources that proved most fruitful and work with varying budgets as well.


    Just as alumni or patients are more inclined to give because of a relationship they have with the institutions, cultural organizations also form unique relationships with constituencies and identifying those connections is the first step in determining the best pool to screen. For most museums, the hottest pool to screen is the membership base. By signing up to become members, these individuals are telling you that they are interested in hearing from you, staying engaged, and visiting, and that they have already taken the first step in making a financial commitment (even if it is at a low level at this point). There are several companies who will mass-screen your members, but I would recommend building into the regular process a system in which new or rejoining members are regularly screened and flagged where there is potential for more, even if it is just a quick search through NOZA or a similar database. In one of the museums at which I worked, we did this monthly and were able to convert a large amount of basic level members into supporting level patrons (four-figures and above).

    Annual Fund Donors

    Similar to members, small annual fund donors who respond to a mass appeal are worth examining. This pool typically does not perform as well as members because there is usually a reason they did not join (for example, distance can play a factor) but there are still some donors who have the potential for much higher giving than what they gave to the annual fund.

    Event Attendees and Visitors

    More and more cultural organizations now have systems in place that enable them to sync (or at least connect in some way) their donor database with their ticketing database. While most visitors may not be inclined to share more than their email address at the museum, those who purchase tickets online provide their full mailing address in addition to email. With that information in the database, anyone can pull a list of ticket buyers, exclude current donors/ prospects, and screen this new list for capacity (again, this can be done periodically and outsourced or built into a regular screening process).

    Email Registrations

    Those visitors who provided no information except their email can be included in a screening with others who sign up for an e-newsletter (either in person at events or online). There are some services that can help narrow down your email lists by location. There was also a great NEDRA article a few months ago about how to use email addresses for prospecting/research (see “Exhilarating Email”). One could argue that this list is not likely to yield prospects with as high an inclination as the previous lists (since a financial transaction has not occurred), but identifying those with a high capacity who were interested enough to sign up for e-news may be a helpful first step in building the relationship further and exploring their potential. 

    Peer-to-Peer Screening

    At one of my former positions, we were very successful in asking board/committee members (of specific programs or events) to identify constituents in their network or social circle who might be interested in engaging with the museum. Research would prepare these lists carefully depending on the person completing the screening, and would include checkboxes for different areas of engagement with the museum and capacity levels. Part of the reason these performed well is because this was more than a screening, it also provided a soft next step for those performing the screening by suggesting they help the museum engage the people they have identified. These peer screenings do not necessarily have to be done on the board/committee level: they can also be done with other highly-rated prospects or volunteers who are willing to help the museum. Even if they only identify potential prospects without offering to help, these are now new prospects who were not in the pool previously.  

    One final suggestion is to always keep an eye open for trends as indicators of potential new sources of prospects. For example, at one of my former positions, we knew art collectors were highly attracted to the museum, so we regularly screened top collector lists and identified potential connections to the museum. 

    While museums and other cultural organizations may not have large databases of alumni or patients, they have other relationships that indicate varying degrees of inclination and should be mined for prospects. It does not always have to feel like searching for a needle in a haystack (or a pin in a giant pin cube like Donovan’s work) once you identify the various ways in which individuals connect with your organization.


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