Apra, formerly known as the Association of Professional Researchers for Advancement, hosted its annual conference, Building Bridges, Making Connections, in Pittsburgh this year from August 7 to 11. We were thrilled to attend alongside prospect development professionals hailing from locations across the country.

Conference attendees primarily represented institutions of higher education; therefore, presentations predominantly focused on the needs of larger, more sophisticated fundraising shops. Nonetheless, the content offered small- and medium-sized organizations relevant insights into the trends occurring in the prospect research field. A few of our key takeaways include:

Emphasis on Efficiency Over Quantity

The industry is trending towards more efficient and prioritized research when compiling prospect data, rather than providing front-line fundraisers with “the whole kitchen sink.” Prospect profiles themselves are becoming more streamlined. Rather than supplying front-line fundraisers with hundreds of pages on one prospect, researchers are working to consolidate the most pertinent information for each individual. In-depth profiles are created only for the highest priority prospects. And, proactive research (identifying new prospects) is receiving greater emphasis than strictly reactive research (researching those already in the pipeline).

Continued Growth of Data Analytics

It’s no surprise that proper data analysis is an efficient and effective way for organizations to identify, qualify and prioritize their donor prospects. This is particularly the case for medium and large fundraising shops with substantial donor files. The use of predictive modeling to estimate the future behavior of prospects (e.g., identifying which donors are most likely to make a major gift) has become routine practice among more advanced fundraising programs. Sophisticated shops may also utilize prescriptive models to generate solutions for achieving their desired results (e.g., how many gift officers are needed to increase the revenue goal by X amount).

In a presentation from Ohio State University, the following five-part process was recommended as a best practice for prospect management:

  1. Philanthropic capacity screening (traditionally known as wealth screening)
  2. Predictive modeling
  3. Evaluation of current portfolio assignments
  4. Aligning donors with their specific areas of interest
  5. Qualification

Insights into Next Gen Donors

With the exception of increased support for environmental causes, the giving interests of millennial donors are not significantly different from that of older generations. What is different is how they support these causes.

Next gen donors place great importance on lived experience. As such, this age group highly values volunteerism, events and opportunities to contribute specialized skills. Millennial donors have also demonstrated greater risk tolerance in their giving. “Big Bet Philanthropy” and “Effective Altruism”— growing trends in philanthropy—are both driven by testing ROI and innovating new approaches to disrupt the status quo.

According to the Boston College Center on Wealth and Philanthropy, an estimated $36 trillion will be transferred from baby boomers to millennial heirs by the year 2061, underscoring the importance of keeping a close eye on this generation’s philanthropic inclinations.

These were just a few of the key themes that emerged among the presentations at the conference. We were energized by the advancements in this sector of the nonprofit industry and are eager to apply these insights to our work with the diverse array of clients at Schultz & Williams.