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Top 9 Donor Prospect Research Consultants And Firms You Can Consider Hiring To Ease Your Efforts

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Published: May 27, 2021

In one of our previous posts, we highlighted how donor prospect research makes fundraising more efficient and helps you achieve a higher ROI. 

You have three options to choose from to carry out prospect research. These are: 

  1. Doing it in-house.
  2. Hiring prospect research consultants.
  3. Hiring prospect screening firms.

While doing it in-house is cost-effective, it requires a significant amount of time and effort from your staff. 

But, if you have the budget for it, hiring a consultant or firm is a good option because they can: 

  • Help you set up the research process from scratch if you haven’t already.
  • Train your staff in prospect research and walk them through the relevant tools that are used. 
  • Pinpoint gaps and help you improve your existing strategies.   

So if you’re searching for a prospect research consultant to avail any of these services, this post will help you. 

We’ve collated a list of donor prospect research consultants and firms that you can consider onboarding to help you develop detailed and relevant donor data profiles. But before we get to the list, let’s take a look at when it is best to bring in a third party. 

When should you consider hiring a donor prospect research consultant(s)?

While nothing stops you from getting one at any point, it’s typically a wise investment if: 

1. You lack the resources or expertise to research on your own.

When doing it in-house, you need to have a set process and a dedicated team of volunteers. 

While you can refer to our post on donor prospect research to help you set the process, if you can’t spare volunteers for the task, you can look into getting a firm to do it for you.  

2. Your database is comprehensive but disorganized.

Most nonprofits often overlook the proper donor database management best practices. This leaves them with a huge chunk of data that would require a ton of manual effort to sort through. 

This process is further complicated if your database is not organized, i.e. the data collected is not correctly tagged and stored against the suitable donor profiles. A consultant or firm can help you tackle this without you investing a lot of time in it. 

3. You don’t have a donor database (or one with very little data).

You can’t carry out prospect research without a database. 

In such cases, a donor prospect research consultant can help you set up a list building process to acquire leads that you can appeal to and research for valuable insights. 

4. You require specific donor information that needs a custom strategy.

For instance, if you need to map out a donor’s network to search for major or recurring donations, you will need multiple tools to gather relevant data and create relationship maps. 

This will require a customised strategy that a consultant can help you with. 

If you check one (or more) of these boxes and are looking to get a donor prospect research consultant on board, there are a few factors to keep in mind to choose the best one. Let’s take a look at what they are. 

Factors to consider when looking for a prospect research consultant or firm

Hiring a donor prospect research consultant or firm can be a significant investment. So don’t rush into the decision and make sure that you choose the right one to provide you with what you need. Here are some essential factors to keep in mind. 

1. Your specific needs

The keyword here is “specific.” 

Finding new gift opportunities is a task with a vast scope, and almost every donor prospect research firm or consultant will promise to help you with that. 

But, to shortlist the ones that are right for you, you need to be more specific about your needs. This could include them undertaking tasks like: 

  • Training your staff to use relevant prospect research process tools.
  • Setting up a process to research for a specific event or campaign, like a capital campaign. 
  • Screening existing donor lists to find specific growth areas like generating micro-donations at scale. 

Moreover, you should also consider whether you want their help for a specific campaign or on a long-term ongoing basis. 

Once you list out exactly what you want the consultant to do, you can look through their past experiences to understand if they are proficient in what you want. 

2. Consultant’s experience

Apart from gauging their proficiency in specific services, a consultant’s experience also gives you a good sense of their quality of work. 

Moreover, looking at the type of nonprofits or causes they have aided before can give you an idea if they’re the right fit to help you. 

For example, a firm that majorly works with humanitarian organizations to help them identify major donors might not be as suitable for an animal welfare organization researching to drive event fundraising

When it comes to reviewing a donor prospect research consultant’s work, you can:

  • Ask them for references and case studies or samples of their past work. 
  • Reach out to their past clients and get feedback. 
  • Get the consultant to send you a proposal that details their approach to solve your problem. 

3. Costs

Hiring a consultant or prospect research firm will not be a good idea if their charges don’t fit your budget. 

When looking for a consultant, make sure you:

  • Understand their pricing structure and how it can affect costs. Hourly pricing would be suitable for projects with a defined scope (you have an estimate of billable hours). Alternatively, a flat fee would be preferable for projects focusing on big picture strategies that are not bound by time. 
  • Enquire about the cost for project scope extension. If you need help with something else apart from what you listed initially, how would they charge for that, and approximately how much?
  • Ask about costs for delays. Whether there was a delay in project completion because of you or the consultant, be clear on who will bear the charges and how they will be calculated. 

Estimate the total costs and take into account some buffers just to be safe. 

Donor prospect research consultants and firms that we recommend

As promised, here’s a list of consultants and firms that we recommend. You can refer to their websites to see if their expertise aligns with your needs. 

1. Jennifer Filla

Jennifer Filla is the mind behind the firm Aspire Research Group, which offers prospect research and major donor cultivation services. The firm specialises in major donor research to aid major gift campaigns.

Jennifer Filla works with both nonprofits and fundraising consultants to help them with prospect research and improve nonprofit fundraising

Notable services

Jennifer Filla is known for her expertise in training and walking nonprofits through the donor prospect research process. Smaller nonprofits who are looking to set up this process can significantly benefit from this.  

Website: Aspire Research Group

2. Bond Lammey

Bond Lammey is the Senior Vice President of Prospect Development at Bentz Whaley Flessner, a nonprofit consulting firm. She has nearly 20 years of experience as a consultant, specialising in prospect development and donor relations. 

Bond’s portfolio boasts clients ranging from humanitarian and conservation nonprofits to educational and medical care institutions. 

Notable services

Bond Lammey is highly experienced in relationship management and prospect development program assessment and design. She can help you analyse your existing strategies, improve on them, and guide you on using them to improve donor relations

Website: Bentz Whaley Flessner

3. Margaret King

Margaret King is the woman behind the InfoRich Group, a nonprofit consulting firm that specialises in prospect research, wealth screening, grant writing, and training. She’s a highly skilled researcher and fundraiser who has served on several nonprofit boards. 

Margaret leverages donor prospect research to help her clients obtain large gifts and grants.

Notable services

Apart from identifying and securing grants, Margaret specialises in helping nonprofits (especially small ones) build comprehensive donor databases. Moreover, the InfoRich Group can also help you with benchmarking, i.e. measuring your performance against other nonprofits to see if you can improve your strategies. 

Website: InfoRich Group

4. Ed Crane

Ed Crane, the founder of the Crane Fundraising Counsel, brings over 35 years of experience in the nonprofit sector. He primarily works with small and medium-sized nonprofits to help them strengthen their existing fundraising operations.  

As your consultant, Ed can help you set up relevant tools and processes to capture donor data for research.  

Notable services

Apart from helping you with donor prospect research, Ed also trains you in the best practices to manage your donor database efficiently. Donor database management is critical to maintaining donor relations and outreach efficiency. 

Website: Crane Fundraising Counsel

5. RBW Strategy

RBW Strategy is a nonprofit consulting firm led by Rachel Werner. Apart from prospect research, they specialise in data gathering and assessments and collaborations between nonprofits. 

Since it was founded, RBW strategy has helped nonprofits secure over $40 million in funding from government, foundations, and corporate sources and over $2 billion in grant funding. 

Notable services

RBW specialises in helping nonprofits secure corporate, government, and foundation grants. They use a comprehensive two-step approach to help you conduct donor prospect research and gather insights. They also help you use these insights to cultivate relationships with funders and write grant applications to improve your chances of securing them. 

Website: RBW Strategy

6. Chase Solutions

Founded by Dave Chase, Chase Solutions is a wealth screening firm helping nonprofits for nearly thirty years. The firm specialises in building comprehensive wealth profiles for nonprofits seeking major gifts. 

The firm is known to track inheritance back as far as the 1800s and populate profiles of families going back generations, along with data on who they know and who they give to. Their partnership with WealthEngine gives you access to multiple wealth intelligence services like screening, prospecting, and predictive modelling. 

Notable services

One aspect of Chase Solutions that stands out is their Freelance Prospect Research Network that connects you with freelance professionals to outsource your prospect research. Since they are freelancers, the costs for these services are very affordable. 

Website: Chase Solutions

7. Estee Pierce 

Estee Pierce is an independent donor prospect research consultant focused on prospect research and fundraising strategy. She primarily works with arts, education, environment, and social change nonprofit organizations.

Estee has been helping nonprofits with post-screening verification, creating prospect lists for board review, developing comprehensive profiles on individuals, foundations, and corporations.

Notable services

A notable service provided by Estee is her comprehensive prospect research training sessions. These sessions help organizations design strategies, develop practical and actionable toolkits, and establish policies and practices for research specific to their needs. 

Website: Estee Pierce

8. The Helen Brown Group

The Helen Brown Group is a prospect research consulting firm with a team of 20 experienced consultants who collaborate with nonprofits to help them with their needs. The firm specialises in prospect research, management, and identification, along with data analytics consulting.

Notable services

While The Helen Brown Group provides a wide range of services, their flexibility in providing you only with the services you need is quite unique. This can be a huge cost advantage for some. 

You can opt for their ‘wrap-around consulting service (which includes everything). Alternatively, you can go for just one (or more) specific service like database analysis (which will be done on your database), research for specific information, or profile building. 

Website: The Helen Brown Group

9. Liles Prospecting

Josef Manuel Liles of Liles Prospecting is another freelancer with over ten years of experience in prospect research. His portfolio comprises nonprofits working in the areas of immigrant justice, environmental conservation and social services. 

Liles offers customised prospect research services which include creating profiles on top prospects in your database, corporate and foundation research, and providing capacity ratings for all prospects. You can use these ratings to segment your lists and prioritize who to appeal to first. 

Notable services

Apart from capacity ratings, Liles Prospecting also helps you with donor segmentation. This includes segmenting donors into prospective annual, major, or principal donors. He even helps you identify planned giving opportunities in your database. 

Website: Liles Prospecting 

What’s next?

Now that you have a list of donor prospect research consultants to look into, all you have to do is research them a little and analyse them against the factors mentioned above. Here’s a step by step approach to get started:

  1. Visit their websites and go through the detailed list of their services. See if it includes the specific service that you’re looking for. 
  2. Next, if you find the service, you can look at their past clients and case studies to analyse their quality of work. 
  3. Get in touch with them for their prices and references. 

That will get the ball rolling in the right direction. 

Featured image source: Dan Dimmock

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