Prospect research tools: making the case for automation in universities
Streamline research to focus on building long term relationships
Charitable giving to higher education institutions in the United States exceeded $5.2 billion in fiscal year 2021, a 6.9% increase over 2020, according to the Voluntary Support of Education. This rise follows a quadrupling of the value of annual donations to $4 billion in the years between 2013 and 2019.
Foundations and alumni contributed 56.3% of all reported gifts. Non-alumnis, corporations, and other organisations were responsible for the remaining support.
This is great news for higher education institutions, who can use the funding for scholarships, facilities, research, and more. However, it also means that development and alumni relations departments are busier than ever.
Not only do these departments need to assess record numbers of prospects’ potential for giving, and then approach them with tailored proposals, they also have to ensure the prospects align with their institution’s ethics and moral positioning.
This comes at a time when students, staff and alumni are deeply concerned about transparency and potential complicity with authoritarian regimes, polluters, and bad actors.
Colleges are still reeling from the fallout of major fundraising errors made in the last few years. The admissions scandal, as well as donations from Epstein and the Sackler family have tarnished colleges’ reputations. This year, Stanford University was criticised when it announced that a new climate school would accept donations from fossil fuel companies.
In response, many schools have set up ethics boards to screen donors and are implementing policies for accepting gifts. However, a donor doesn’t have to cause a headline-generating furor to be misaligned with the institution. Donors whose subtle business connections to polluters or companies with human rights abuses in their supply chains are later unveiled can also be damaging.
It is more important than ever that colleges know exactly who prospects are, as soon as possible, so they can focus their fundraising efforts on the right prospects. But with the vast amount of information on the internet, it takes teams of researchers days to manually trawl through search results in order to learn about potential donors and assess their suitability.
Automation changes that.
How automation can turn prospect research from a chore to an advantage
Prospect research and due diligence can be a huge drain on resources. Some institutions choose to outsource it to expensive due diligence research firms, while others are hiring researchers specifically for the task.
With automation, due diligence becomes a vital part of the fundraising process, and not an afterthought. Due diligence and prospect research can be done simultaneously, complementing each other, rather than limiting each other.
The research process is accelerated, while also uncovering useful connections and affiliations that would almost certainly have been missed by manual research, boosting fundraising efforts.
Fundraisers can make quick, informed decisions. They can focus on building relationships with standout prospects, confident that they are fully informed about their wealth and philanthropic standpoints. They know not just who to approach, but when and how to approach them.
Institutions that wait to incorporate automation and prospect research software into their prospect research will fall behind. Not only will they devote more time and resources to research, they will miss out on the extra growth opportunities it can deliver.