Researchers
July 29, 2020

The Role of Research in Philanthropic Pursuit

Research findings have different intentions. For some industries, the goal is purely scientific and the pursuit of knowledge. For others, it is a means to ensure financial sustainability.
Source: Unsplash

For the non-profit and social enterprise world, having a steady cash flow is of utmost importance for making sure that the mission and goals the organization wishes to accomplish are not compromised. In the field of non-profit management, it is common knowledge that having a good business plan is not enough. Cash flow and the ability to disburse funds when needed ensures a smooth transition from theory to project implementation. 

This takes the ability for small teams within the organization to fundraise successfully; to have a good layout of the donors that have the potential to be tapped and then of course how to relate to them. This initiative necessitates good background research. It is usually the job of the Major Gifts Officer (MGO) to move from identification to cultivation to solicitation to stewardship. These professionals lead the process of building relationships with prospects who have the capacity and affinity to contribute a major gift. 

Specialized Research over the art of persuasion 

In different industries the major gifts officer has to strategically align themselves with corporate or individual donors who have a passion and history of giving to that particular industry. For example, Engineers without Borders (EWB) employs a MGO to target donors that have previously given within the context of water and sanitation health. Having a research background on the major players involved in this sector, but also in certain regions of the world, is a key contributor.

In a similar vein, if we look at another organization such as the International Rescue Committee (IRC), a MGO has to tap very different corporate or individual donors as the field of interest is not strictly in water and sanitation health—it is in saving lives and displaced communities of those seeking refuge.

Thus there is really a difference between doing academic research, which encompasses academics pouring over academic journals to make contributions to their field, and the more fast-paced and people centered research that is common in a Major Gifts role. The latter is a kind of research that is more background heavy, as mentioned, but also more financially based—i.e. looking at the funding and recipient streams of corporate donors and which organizations they have given to at critical junctures.

Having a great understanding of the financials of corporate and individual donors and what principles they are aligned with also de-legitimizes the art of persuasion approach to fundraising and email marketing campaigns that are supposed to appeal to your ethos to get you to donate.

The MGO approach rather uses some persuasion, but mainly does research on major donors to form interpersonal relationships with them. These bonds are made stronger by breaking news headlines and current events that make urgent gifts and timeliness a priority for both donors and fundraisers.

Getting the money

Once the money has been given or the check has been written, it’s up to research scientists at the organization to come up with their own primary or secondary research. This is where impact assessments and monitoring and evaluation exercises come in. These reports, usually published quarterly as online PDFs, are quick ways for donors to see how their contribution is helping a certain cause and maintain that steady relationship.  

The intent of the monitoring research (or work) is really to boast about how well programs are doing, using strategic information. It is less about knowledge for the sake of knowledge and more about building out relationships with partners and donors.

This represents the duality of research. On the one hand, some research scientists are spending their days in lab settings doing trial and error experiments in order to come up with a major breakthrough. This is an ego driven or passion project based on years of particular subject matter. There is also the social science research used to satisfy the relationship between donors and organizations. This research can be less personal and is conducted to ensure cash flows and financial sustainability of an organization. It’s important to know the difference between the two.

Tags Philanthropic Pursuit Research
Michael Robbins
Writer
Michael is a writer that helps organizations align their mission and values to a wide audience.

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