Ask a Manager: Expanding Your Shop

Question: At the moment, I’m the sole researcher for my organization. I am formulating a plan for what an expanded (and currently hypothetical) Office of Prospect Research would look like, were I to branch out and add a few additional people in the coming years. It’s a long-term goal, and I thought I’d ask for suggestions.

Answer: First I must admit that I’ve never expanded from a one-person shop; however, I have had the opportunity to increase the size of the research team as well as the biographical data team but any staffing and restructuring needs should be based on the growth and plan for the organization. Since the details on the organization were left out of the request, my response is based on a few assumptions.

Prior to making any changes, an analysis of the office and the needs would be very beneficial, if you haven’t already done so. How many development officers is the office expected to support? Will that number increase as well? What are the expectations and needs from the prospect research team? Profiles, quick capacity identification, analytics or a combination of all of these? Is your organization currently in a campaign? Are you planning to start a campaign?

The ratio of researchers to fundraisers in a perfect would be 1:1; however, that is rarely the case. If possible I’d suggest keeping the ratio 1:3. This would enable the researchers to establish a strong working relationship with the fundraisers and gain a sense of their workstyle, needs and expectations. Getting new staff trained and acclimated takes time and if you’re only a one-person shop to begin with, taking the time to train staff will decrease your productivity in the beginning. Starting each new researcher with simple profiles and research tasks that you can review together can be great on-the-job training. If you have the funds to hire an in-house analytics person, that would be a great asset too! Someone who can look at the donors, build a model of what a “good” prospect looks like and identify others in the database with similar characteristics can cut down on screening and consulting fees.

Roles and Responsibilities
If the needs of the organization permit it, I’d encourage you to have one new researcher focus on proactively identifying new prospects and culling the database for prospects that are giving below their potential, while the other focuses on reactive requests from fundraisers and senior leadership to ensure their needs are met for meetings, visits and events.

Below are a few resources you might find helpful: