Better Researcher-Fundraiser Relationships: A Response to “Prospecting Problems” and “Fundraisingly Frustrated”

About a week ago Chris Cannon wrote a great blog post outlining some prevalent problems plaguing the fundraiser-researcher dynamic. I had to retweet the link with the comment that it was “dead on,” because it is. Based on what I’ve frequently heard from other researchers at APRA conferences, in many shops the relationship between researchers and frontline fundraisers can be tenuous: e.g., researchers often don’t hear much feedback, if any, from the gift officers they help; fundraisers don’t easily engage with the prospect management system. (Just to name a couple things Chris outlined in his post.)

Chris replied to my tweet and asked what I’ve seen work in addressing these issues. The answer to that question deserves more than just 140 characters! (Plus it’s a pretty darn good topic for a blog post.) So I thought I’d touch on it here.

I’ve found that there are two key components that go a long way in tackling the researcher-fundraiser disconnect: getting the right people in place, and getting them to do the right things.

The Right Things

What are the “things” people need to do? Helen Brown, in her own response to Chris’s post, suggests that communication and relationship building are two of the things that are most critical. She’s absolutely right! But what exactly do we do to make that happen? At my institution, Research staff get face time with gift officers. We have both formal and informal meetings where we talk about the work and we just maintain a positive relationship.

  • Every month, we have a formal “research partner meeting” where the researcher and fundraiser get together to review prospect management reports in preparation for the monthly prospect meeting. They go over outstanding and upcoming solicitations; they review prospect lists; they talk about recent visits; they talk about how they can best help one another.
  • As much as possible, we try to have informal interactions with one another. I encourage my research staff to stop by the fundraisers’ offices from time to time or go have coffee with them. Frankly, I don’t care a whole lot about what happens in these encounters, as long as it’s positive. If the researcher and gift officer spend an hour talking about March Madness, great! They’re building that relationship and increasing the good rapport that helps keep open the lines of productive communication.

The Right People

Of course these “things” that we try to do to foster good relationships between researchers and fundraisers are practically worthless if we don’t have the right people in place to do them. If I’ve got a researcher who is too shy to drop in on gift officers, they can’t have successful informal interactions. If my researcher is generally surly and cantankerous, they’re going to have a hard time building a good relationship with the gift officers.

So any time I’m hiring a new researcher, I pay a lot of attention to their personality and general disposition.  Are they generally outgoing? Do they seem relatable and easy to get along with? This is probably more important to me than a person’s research experience or capabilities, because I can train most people to do good research. It is far more difficult (maybe even impossible??) to train someone to be pleasant to be around, or not to be shy.  If they are internally motivated to reach out to the people they work with and they enjoy doing it, that will be one critical piece I won’t have to worry so much about needing to continually push.

Do I feel like I’ve completely solved the problems Chris describes in his post? Nope. (I’ve got one fundraiser, for example, who has said more than once, “I can find plenty of stuff myself on google, but you guys have access to special databases that we don’t.” Sure, it’s true, but it indicates that we haven’t done a good enough job of educating about our capabilities as in-depth information seekers AND as specialized analysts.) But having the right people in place, doing the right things, sure does go a long way in making for a stronger, more productive relationship between Research and frontline fundraisers.


3 responses to “Better Researcher-Fundraiser Relationships: A Response to “Prospecting Problems” and “Fundraisingly Frustrated”

  1. Personally I believe that prospect researchers should change their names to fundraising strategists and not only do research but also participate in stewardship and donor relations. In fact, I think prospect researchers should be assigned 2-3 development officers and then be responsible for prospect research, stewardship, donor relations, and prospect management for the donors in the development officers profiles.

  2. Shy But Not Useless

    Your preemptive dismissal of shy people is cruel and unnecessary. You don’t have to be a social butterfly to form quality, productive relationships. The fact that you’re ignoring someone who may be a better worker in favor of someone who’s better at chatting you up is something you should rethink. The important part is how they will function over time as a member of your team; maybe the shy person will simply need a couple of days more to get acclimated than the showy extrovert. Honestly, your easy dismissal of anyone who’s a bit introverted or nervous (in a stressful, artificial interviewing environment, imagine!) is callous.

    • You’ve got a good argument here – some of which I definitely agree with!

      Should a person be overlooked for a prospect research position simply because they are shy? Absolutely not. Introverted prospect researchers can definitely build good relationships with gift officers (and other staff).

      If someone’s shyness keeps them from being able to “form quality, productive relationships” with their co-workers, is that a problem? Yes, particularly when those quality, productive relationships are a critical component of the success of our program.

      It’s hard to deny that extroverts have an edge when it comes to the more social aspects of a job. Reaching out to their coworkers and fostering those informal connections — it is all so easy and natural for extroverts. But I reject the idea that introverts are incapable of doing the same.

      I say all this as an introvert myself. Going to events and meeting new people can be terribly nerve-wracking for me, and I get butterflies in my stomach just thinking about picking up the phone to talk to someone I don’t know. The days when I am immersed in interesting solo work and hardly say a word to any of my colleagues are some of the most energizing for me. But I don’t think anyone who knows me would ever think of me as shy or inward-focused, because I’ve worked continuously to connect with others and build relationships in spite of my introverted tendencies.

      Ultimately, it’s not how a person *is* that determines how successful they’ll be in a particular role, it’s what they *do.*

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