There has been a lot of discussion over the years on measuring prospect research.

It’s a challenging endeavour since there is both a long and short term aspect to measuring. We may research a prospect and it may be years before a new gift comes in. We may find a new prospect, but perhaps they are not picked up and managed by a fundraiser – hence the measurement of our effectiveness is additionally dependent on the actions and interactions of others – something we don’t always control.

As we’ve added analytics, data modelling, more advanced prospect screening techniques and more elements into the mix the measuring game has become more complex – but not insurmountable. We can still measure.

I like the idea of measuring prospect research and have always implemented measurement whenever the function reported to me. I think that like anything else we do, measurement and developing the appropriate metrics is a critical aspect of what we should be doing. Without measurement, how do we even know if we’re effective? How do we lobby for the resources we need? How do we inform as to the value of research?

Here are a few ideas:

  • Have a $ goal and a number of prospect goals such as __ number of new major donors. You may have to guess at goals when you first start setting them, but remember, these can be refined as you start to collect the metrics.
  • Record when new prospects are found, when they’re picked up by fundraisers and track the $ raised from these discoveries.
  • In a similar fashion record when profiles are done and what the subsequent actions are for these profiles. You can demonstrate which are utilized and which are not.
  • Incorporate contact metrics into monthly reporting. For example “Profiles completed this month and actions taken, profiles completed in the last three months where no actions were taken.” This helps illustrate whether fundraisers are visiting prospects for whom the research as been done.
  • Utilize a research request form that can keep track of the # of requests from fundraisers. This is another way to show the activity for prospect researchers. It doesn’t hurt to have similar metrics for # of meetings, strategy sessions or other significant interactions with fundraisers. These can often take up a lot of time. Keep track of special projects such as prospect screenings or other “larger scale” activities and report back on these. There are some online tools such as SurveyMonkey that you can use to create a “form” that save data into a database.
  • Average response time for a request. Can be a good metric but be cautious with this one since some prospects may require much more work if there’s not a lot of information available for them. You don’t want to be “too quick.”

Whatever you do, remember to be consistent. It can take a little extra time to think about and record activities, but this small investment can go a long ways to not only inform yourself, but more importantly provide the documentation of value that you provide to the overall fundraising efforts. Even better, if you can show trends over time – new prospects this year compared to new prospects found last year.

Don’t be defensive about being measured. We’ve moved into more of an analytics culture generally and managers expect us to be measuring a lot more than we ever have in the past. By demonstrating that you’re managing your own house with metrics it gives you more credibility that you understand the current age.

Make sure you’re balancing the effort of recording and measuring what you’re doing with the outcomes that you’re looking for.

If you’re spending too much time measuring and not enough time researching then you’ll need to look towards how you can automate some of your metrics. For example, in our organization we have an action recorded in the system for prospect research profiles completed. We go through a similar exercise for proposals we’ve written. These actions form the basis of some reports that we use to highlight research activity.

Also try to think of some of these measures from a fundraiser point of view. If you’re participating in fundraising meetings it doesn’t hurt to preface your part of the agenda with a report on what’s been accomplished – and by the same token – what has not, such as prospects where profiles were done and the prospects haven’t been picked up yet.