5 Questions for Jay Frost

This is a continuing series of 5 Questions for experts from across the nonprofit sector:

5 Questions for Jay Frost
Jay Frost is a 25 year veteran of the fundraising field. He has played a leadership role in a number of companies including FundraisingINFO.com (FRI), WealthEngine and Wealth ID, as well as serving as a fundraiser in New York and Washington and a grantmaker with the federal government. He lectures and publishes regularly on fundraising and philanthropy and will be presenting on “The Global Search: Current Strategies and Tactics for International Fundraising and Prospect Research” at this year’s BBCON in Washington, DC.  Follow Jay on Twitter at @gordonjayfrost.

1. Is the use of prospect research becoming more mainstream or still just a tool for large nonprofits?
I think prospect research has always been in the mainstream of nonprofits large and small. They just don’t know they are doing it! Every day, someone at a nonprofit is looking for a donor’s address or phone number online, Googling a name for past giving or searching for some biographical information on LinkedIn. Of course, a true prospect research unit would do far more than this in qualifying a prospect or profiling a donor. Fundamentally, however, they are both doing the same thing. A well trained and resourced department simply does a better job of it. The danger in not making the distinction between the type of cursory review most offices do and the kind of work performed by a professional prospect research unit is that they miss opportunities, ask for too little and, because they are spending time looking things up rather than seeing donors, they ask less often than they could. All of these things put organizations without professional level prospect research at a significant short and long term fundraising disadvantage. Ironically, the very profusion of inexpensive or free research tools makes professional prospect research more important than ever.

2. How do you see social networks reshaping traditional donor research or fundraising techniques?
Completely! On the fundraising front, social networks dramatically expand our access to new prospective donors at almost no cost. These markets are more diverse and skew both wealthier and younger, all of which bode well for future fundraising. Individuals are also more accessible on these platforms than they would be by email, mail or phone. From a donor research perspective, social media provides the biggest source of data yet on individuals, their interests and their networks. Social profiles provide the missing link in donor profiling, telling us how people see themselves and their relationship to the world. To my mind, social networking is the most important development in fundraising since the advent of direct mail campaigns and phonathons and holds the promise of transforming organizations by making them more responsive to the needs and interests of the community.

3. Was there anything in the latest Giving USA report that surprised you?
The Giving USA numbers are always exciting and perplexing to me. On one hand, they reflect the state of the economy. On the other, they are merely a reflection of what fundraising activity has been undertaken. Unfortunately, the report does not estimate how many solicitations were made and at what level or how that compares to fundraising activity in prior years. Without that information, there is no way to tell how much responsibility nonprofits might have for changes in giving patterns. We all know, for example, that institutions raise far more money in capital campaigns than in regular annual fundraising drives. So what happens if we delay a campaign or put off our capital requests because of perceived weakness in the economy or sensitivity about asking our donors for support at a difficult time? Obviously, we will raise less. Now, multiply that by the number of institutions making those decisions. The implications of changes to our sales activity are enormous. We don’t know whether America’s nonprofits asked less often and for less money over the last three years, but some anecdotal evidence suggests they did. One of the most remarkable booms in this year’s report is the increase in international support. The report attributes it to giving in support of Haiti earthquake relief efforts. But why did so many Americans give so much money to Haitian relief. Because there was no hesitation in asking for that support. Fundraising commenced immediately when the impact of the earthquake became known. We didn’t wait and determine whether or not it was the right time to raise money. We started raising it. The results are clear. Rather than attributing this tremendous response merely to the an intangible “charitable impulse” I believe we should recognize it as a combination of public awareness and solicitation from trusted charities and their media advocates that led to the outpouring of support.

4. How important is it for nonprofits to do donor prospecting beyond their own geographic borders?
I believe that depends on an organization’s geographical service area. For example, a social service agency serving a town of 25,000 is unlikely to make a compelling case for a donor in another state unless they have some kind of personal connection. On the other hand, a college in that same town which attracts international students could successfully make a case to its foreign alumni. What is important is that organizations not limit themselves to who they think is interested but instead let new potential constituents decide for themselves if they would like to participate in and provide financial support. Social media makes it much easier and less expensive to spread a wide net and then steward the relationships that form, whether they are in the same zip code or 6,000 miles away. Having said all that, it is increasingly important to recognize that the United States is a shrinking piece of the global economic pie. Only about a quarter of the world’s wealthiest people live in North America and China is projected to be home to the world’s largest population of millionaires by 2013. If an American organization thinks its mission and services may have appeal outside the US, they should seriously consider the international fundraising marketplace.

5. 5 years from now we’re all going to look back and say ___________?
I don’t know. But whatever it is, we won’t “say” it. We’ll text it! 😉