Ratings on the Rise! Are you “doing” them right?

Ratings on the Rise! Are you “doing” them right?There’s a trend going on in prospect research and it has to do with ratings. It’s subtle when you’re in it, but pretty obvious if you take a few steps back. Prospect Management is gaining ground as the primary role in the overall field of Prospect Research. The availability of all kinds of ratings is driving this change.

It seems an unlikely scenario at first glance. Currently there are no books published that are dedicated to the subject of Prospect Management. There’s not much even written in the way of blog posts or white papers as compared to other subjects.

But this year, there are many sessions on it at the 2018 Apra Prospect Development conference and the Prospect Research Institute is offering a first run of its Introduction to Prospect Management online course.

So where’s the evidence that Prospect Management is taking over?

1-The Rise of Ratings

Emerging information technologies have brought automation to fundraising research and the first iteration of this has been prospect donor ratings. It started with wealth screenings and the freedom to take large groups of records and electronically match them with wealth indicators. As fundraising analytics has grown, this has turned into prospect screenings that include algorithms and statistical data modeling to deliver all manner of ratings, such as likelihood-to-give ratings.

Suddenly it isn’t enough for prospect research professionals to be able to curate information about an individual prospect. Now we need to be able to understand, leverage, and effectively disseminate screening ratings and results.

2-Demanding customers

Added to this boon of automated information are big companies marketing their information technologies to fundraising professionals. Sales representatives promise that you can identify one big prospect and pay for the software – in (practically) seconds! They co-present with clients who swear by net worth values and capacity ratings, and any other shiny object on offer.

And while it’s great to have internal customers demanding “more prospect research,” managing their expectations, explaining the technology in practice, and coordinating effective use strategies among multiple departments (IT, Advancement Services, Development, Leadership) is way beyond what many prospect research professionals signed up for or even imagined. It puts a real strain on the relationship between prospect research and the development officers we work with.

A recent BBQ (big burning question) fielded on the Institute’s Everything Prospect Research forum reveals the complexity behind this perfect storm – and how specific the challenges are to each organization’s size, resources, mission, culture, and awareness. There’s no one, “right” way to use ratings or organize your prospect management efforts.

3-Human expertise

All this leads to prospect research professionals turning into consulting partners. In a small fundraising office with a major gifts program it means that you are a generalist, spending a good bit of your time figuring out how to deliver automated results with just the right amount of manual oversight and input, where and how to store the results in the database, and how to provide advice on tracking and metrics.

In a growing fundraising office it means that there are dedicated Prospect Management positions created. And in the really big shops it means that there is clear recognition of the importance and role of a prospect management program, often complete with its own department status.

But if there isn’t a right or wrong way to do prospect management, and there is so little continuing education available, where can a prospect research professional turn?

Introducing the Ratings Research Challenge

The Institute is excited to partner with iWave to bring you a Ratings Research Challenge! A Research Challenge introduces a new skill, lets you practice using non-confidential information, and then brings everyone together to review and discuss.

The Ratings Research Challenge (click here to register) (a) starts with an iWave webinar (online registration), (b) provides a resource collection that includes video tutorials and other resources where you can learn more, (c) assigns homework so you can practice, and (c) brings you together with your peers in a discussion forum and in a live, online meeting.

Here’s why this kind of training opportunity works so well:

  • You master new technology in short, on-demand sessions that apply directly to the tasks that you need to perform. Who wants to learn about a million product features that you then have to figure out how to use to accomplish your work? In a Research Challenge, you get to spend time learning how to do exactly what you need.
  • You apply new techniques to your work in your unique organization. When there is no right or wrong way to use something like capacity or other ratings, learning how to approach the problem and getting your questions answered provides specific guidance and direction.
  • You build your network of people doing the same kind of work as you. Being able to reach out to your peers for advice, to share your ideas with them, and to share and watch demos of people solving problems at live meetings provides a whole new dimension to learning!

The true value in a Research Challenge is that you can take all of your learning from a wide variety of sources and use the Research Challenge to pull it all together and apply it to your unique situation.

Join us from July 19 through Aug 2 for the Ratings Research Challenge where you get to rate the 5 Philanthropists (Nearly) Everyone Wants On Their Prospect List.

Register now for the Ratings Research Challenge and login with a free account to access the resource collection and start your homework!