The role of prospect research in major donor fundraising

As part of an MA in Philanthropic Studies (undertaken at the Centre for Philanthropy at the University of Kent) I completed a study which aimed to identify the role that prospect research plays in major donor fundraising. The study involved a survey, undertaken in 2018, of major donor fundraisers and prospect researchers working in higher education institutions in the UK. I’m pleased to say that the results of the study are now available to download.

Download report:
The role of prospect research in major donor fundraising

As a quick summary the results of the study cover a number of areas, such as:

  • The activities commonly undertaken by prospect researchers
  • The purposes or reasons for which fundraisers use prospect research
  • How necessary fundraisers feel research is to their work
  • The ways in which prospect research contributes to fundraising
  • Prospect research metrics (i.e. what data is being gathered on the output or impact of prospect research)

In particular, the results can be used by non-profit organisations when analysing the use of personal data for prospect research purposes under the GDPR. Until now, the non-profit sector did not have a reliable evidence base which outlined the purpose or necessity of prospect research, nor which identified if the purposes of prospect research could reasonably be achieved by other methods (which do not use personal data) – all important areas to analyse, particularly for those organisations relying on their Legitimate Interests to process personal data for prospect research. In practical terms, the data and evidence presented in the paper can now be used by any non-profit organisation when completing, for example, a Legitimate Interest Assessment or a Data Privacy Impact Assessment.

Beyond GDPR, the paper highlights that, on the whole, the prospect research community is not particularly good at gathering evidence which illustrates the impact (or the ROI) of prospect research. That said, it does also show that the vast majority of major donor fundraisers are overwhelmingly positive about the ways in which prospect research supports them in their work.

If you think it might be useful for you or your organisation, please do download the paper and (when sufficiently caffeinated) have a read. I’d be more than happy to answer any questions or chat about the data/paper in more detail if you’d like to get in touch.

Nicola Williams

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