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Research Alert: Corporate and Foundation Profiling is Easy!

Writing a profile 072714

By Jen Filla, CEO of, Prospect Research Institute and President of Aspire Research Group

Corporate and foundation information is structured information easy to find and present. An article on profiling should be about two paragraphs long, right? That’s like saying that you only need to know size and color to successfully buy someone a pair of shoes. Sure, we could get away with that, but careful customization will help us save time and achieve more.

Corporate and foundation research has a lot of potential to strengthen an organization, but unfortunately it often gets brushed aside with… an aloof reference to the USA Giving numbers that demonstrate where the majority of the philanthropic dollars come from – individuals. Yet ignoring this source of income is unwise. It may not be the primary focus of your organization’s fundraising resources, but it can still make a wonderful impact on your program and operating budgets – and that serves your mission!

When I was in corporate and foundation relations it felt a little bit like we were the step-children to major and planned gifts. We were definitely in the family, but we didn’t quite fit into the prospect review meetings the same way and the donor database definitely struggled to accommodate the differences.

If there is a researcher in your office, or if you are tasked with researching corporations and foundations and handing that information to others to use for fundraising, consider creating a custom-built profile template. A well-built template will help you research what’s most important. You can stop wasting time providing information that does not help with decision-making or cultivation.

Sounds obvious, right? Let’s consider two common scenarios: (1) corporate sponsorship for an event, and (2) program support from a foundation.

Corporate Event Sponsorship

Just like prospecting for individuals, finding corporate sponsors for an event usually involves some trolling through the donor database as well as researching past sponsors or corporations who have been identified through committee or board connections. Once you have a corporation to research, what should the final product, the prospect profile, look like?

In order to figure that out, let’s list the questions an event fundraiser is likely to ask about any prospect.

  • Linkage: Do we have a connection to this company? Who? How strongly connected? If not, what is the likelihood our request will be successful?
  • Inclination: Has the company sponsored events before? Events like ours? Organizations like us?
  • Ability: At what sponsorship level(s) could this company give?

If we start with the questions, we will be in a much better position to craft a profile format that is user friendly. For example, have you ever been given a list of names in an Excel file that did not separate the first and last name and you had to create a last name column and re-type just so you could sort by last name? I have! Many times our traditional prospect profile is presented in a very logical order – but not necessarily in the format or order that the frontline fundraiser needs to use it.

Don’t make your fundraiser have to do the equivalent of re-arranging the information in your profile!

Following is a picture of a corporate profile format with a first page that quickly answers the common questions an event fundraiser might have. Notice how the researcher took the time to find out what new things were happening with the prospect so she could make some seriously good recommendations for the frontline fundraiser to explore?

GRAPHIC: CorpEventSample.jpg

In this sample profile, there is supporting information on the pages following the first page summary. How much or how little information you provide might be affected by many things including how close you are to a gift, your organization’s culture, how well the prospect is known by the fundraiser, or how large a gift is being contemplated.

Foundation Program Support

If we were looking for foundation support for one of our organization’s programs, we might use a subscription tool such as Foundation Center Online or Foundation Search to identify a list of prospects. My favorite method of verifying long lists of Foundations is to use an Excel spreadsheet and score each one based on a list of basic criteria, such as “do they fund in our geographic area?” or “do they fund the type of request we intend to make?”.

Once I have a narrowed list and want to create a foundation prospect profile for the grant writer, it helps to think of essentially the same questions we asked of corporations, but especially if they are foundations NOT funded by a corporation, the words are a little bit different.

  • Linkage: Do they accept unsolicited applications? Do we have a connection that could help us understand the foundation better or advocate for us?
  • Inclination: Do we fit within a program or interest of the foundation? Have they given to similar organizations?
  • Ability: What are the grant amounts? Do they have exclusions? Do they make multi-year pledges?

Following is a graphic of the first page of a foundation prospect profile.


Notice how this profile uses more narrative under the Highlights section to answer the questions? It doesn’t really matter exactly how you format your profile. What matters is that the content the frontline fundraiser needs is in an order and design that makes it easiest for her to access it.

Change is Constant

If you invest the time upfront to create custom templates that fit your organization’s common scenarios you might think you have finished the task. But you didn’t stop improving your writing after you achieved success with book reports in grade school, did you? Of course not!

As time passes we need to take time to regularly invest in an assessment of our search strategies and templates. We need to ask lots of questions and talk to the staff members involved. What do they like best about the profiles? What is the first thing they read? Is there anything else we could include that would be helpful? One of my charter students at the Prospect Research Institute reworked her profile template with great success. Her fundraisers were thrilled and she enjoyed the process.

You may find that evaluation of your profiles leads to changes in expectations. This could be a good thing! For example, if end users are reluctant to adopt and pursue prospects the researcher has assigned high ratings, you may need the analysis and recommendations presented differently – or maybe you need to start providing analysis and recommendations. The researcher may feel like this is straying into fundraising territory. It is! And prospect researchers are fundraisers too.

Benchmarking and Community

Because researching corporations and foundations, like so many things in life, is a constantly evolving task, consider actively participating in the prospect research community. You can do this as a manager or as a prospect researcher. There are a surprising number of frontline fundraisers in the prospect development community!

  • Access and add to profile template collections such as the ones at, and the Prospect Research Institute
  • When you have an exciting new insight or method that is bringing great results in your office, why not share it on the APRA PRSPCT-L list-serv
  • Keep up with continuing education opportunities in your field. (Hint: I am co-presenting a workshop on Improving your Profile Techniques at APRA Prospect Development 2014Researching profiles day in and day out without time for reflection can leave our efforts vulnerable to the worst disease ever – non-use. Regular review and active participation freshens our perspective and helps us to serve our frontline fundraisers better, raising more money for the missions we are so passionate about.Why not comment and share your challenges and success stories?


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