A Prospect Researcher Hiring Primer | npENGAGE

A Prospect Researcher Hiring Primer

By on Jun 6, 2012


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:

  1. 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. 
  2. 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.
  3. 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.  
  4. 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.  
  5. 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.
  6. 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.worcester@blackbaud.com.

*Laura Worcester is a consultant for Target Analytics. You may reach her at laura.worcester@blackbaud.com.


Laura Worcester, senior consultant at Target Analytics, joined Blackbaud in 2001.In her current role she advises nonprofits on utilizing screening results in identifying and evaluating best donor prospects. In 25+ years of fundraising experience, Laura has served as the chief advancement officer for numerous organizations and managed her own consulting business, providing grant writing services to arts, educational and health care organizations. She’s presented at development conferences and has been a regular contributor to Blackbaud’s blogs with selected posts being reprinted in journals such the NonProfit Times. A traveler since her study abroad days in Denmark, Laura’s committed to passing this enthusiasm on to her teenage daughters. Her family’s travel adventures were just featured in a neighborhood magazine in her suburban Milwaukee community. Contact Laura by email.

Comments (6)

  • Olivia_Australia says:

    Thanks Laura, I always love your posts! Really insightful.

    • Laura Worcester says:

      You are most welcome!  I hope this provides some thoughtful suggestions.  I have been thrilled with how many organizations here are hiring researchers–I think more and more places are seeing this as a vital development role.  Do most non profits in Australia have researchers on staff?

      • Olivia_Australia says:

        In the arts particularly prospect research is a slowly developing trend and most companies haven’t invested in hiring in-house researchers yet. But there’s no denying the value of it and that it is where we are headed. There is a lot of training around prospect research at the moment, which is exciting!

        Prospect research is bigger in our universities, as it is in the US, and also in major charities.

        • Laura Worcester says:

          Sounds very similar to here. Since I started in research in 1985 or so–when it meant heading to the historical society and pouring over microfiche and directories, both the job and the need has changed so much.  And, I see a lot of researchers requesting creative arrangements, such as free lancing, part time and working remotely, which is still very much an evolving trend here.  I do think as more organizations use screening tools and realize how helpful they can be, they also see the need for a dedicated researcher, so that can be making a difference, too!  Thanks, Olivia–have a great day!

  • Kaylen Williams says:

    Thank you Laura!  This will definitely help us as we move forward with our hire! 

    • Laura Worcester says:

      Great–I am hoping it is helpful.  I am thrilled you will be hiring somewhat–this will definitely help with the use of your screening results!

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