I have been asked several times recently how to hire the perfect prospect researcher. Typically these are small to medium development departments who are filling this role for the first time. I love being asked this because today’s prospect researcher will play a significant role in the future success of any development program. This position, however, may present an unusual hiring challenge, as the perfect candidate not only must possess a different skill set than that of other fundraising or fundraising support positions. As a candidate for an “in demand” position, they may also have high standards of what he or she is seeking in an organization. So, here is my “primer” for finding the perfect individual:
- First, if you haven’t already done so, check out the APRA (Association of Prospect Researchers for Advancement) website and locate your closest chapter. Now in its 25th year, APRA is the professional organization for development prospect researchers. With 29 chapters across the United States, most experienced researchers are familiar with the organization and peruse the site when job hunting.
- While on the site, visit the Career Center. This is an invaluable resource that not only stores current job postings (and where you can get a sampling of diversified job descriptions), but also numerous “Skill Sets” designed to assist “fundraising and human resource personnel design job descriptions, training programs, and performance evaluation tools for advancement research professionals.” This can help with terminology, skills and proficiencies, and other aspects of the hiring process.
- Next, consider carefully the role this individual is going to play in your overall development structure. Select terms that convey the importance you plan to give this position. Words like “partner”, “collaborate”, and “team” convey a level of professionalism that will appeal to today’s researcher. In our technologically driven world, a prospect researcher is much more than just an information compiler; he or she must be able to interpret and analyze sophisticated datasets and results. The words you use should reflect this level of expertise.
- On a similar note, I noticed on a recent posting delineation between “reactive” research strategies and “proactive” strategies. To an experienced researcher this immediately communicates that, even if this is a new position, you recognize the difference and will support comprehensive research efforts. Again, a strong message that you take this role seriously.
- Communicate all professional development opportunities offered. While this may be dictated in part by budget restrictions, there are cost effective ways to demonstrate that you support these endeavors. National conferences might not be an option, but most likely you can handle local lunch seminars and complimentary or inexpensive webinars. Articulate these in your posting–and that you expect your new hire to avail him or herself of these. Again, this conveys the importance you are giving this position and the standards to which you will hold the successful candidate.
- Finally, think outside the box in terms of flexibility available as far as time allocation and work schedules. Don’t be afraid to start with a part time research position, or create a FTE with shared responsibilities such as grant writing. Moreover, consider ahead of time the possibility of allowing this individual to work remotely at least part of the time—and don’t be surprised if you are asked this question. To be successful, a researcher doesn’t necessarily need to be “in the office” everyday. You may find that you expand your pool of candidates if you are in a position to offer an occasional “work from home” option.
By now you have probably noticed that I haven’t filled this post with specific skills and experience. You can gain great insights about those from some of the jobs posted on the APRA site. Successful filling of your position may lie more in the tone of your notice than the listing of skills and background required. Think, “How can I differentiate my position from the dozens of others out there?” Are you conveying the message that this position plays a vital role in your development endeavors? Are you encouraging collaboration and professional development? Can you accommodate the flexibility needs of today’s working professional? These are the things that will draw talent to your organization and ensure successful achievement of your prospect research goals.
Have you recently added a researcher to your team? If so, share what worked for you and your organization. Post your comments or email me at Laura.firstname.lastname@example.org.
*Laura Worcester is a consultant for Target Analytics. You may reach her at email@example.com.