posted October 14, 2014 3:16 PM by Gemma Doyle
Right now my plan is to write about my Prospect Research internship twice - once now, when I'm a few weeks in and feel like I can talk about it semi-intelligently, and once in late November or early December as it's winding down, when I'll be able to speak about it as a whole experience. That's the plan - if it doesn't happen that way it's probably because I ended up with lots of things to blog about at the end of the semester and had to sacrifice it - not a terrible prospect, because it means I was doing other cool stuff!
I am spending this semester doing a part-time Prospect Research internship at Joslin Diabetes Center, which is only a short hike from Simmons over in the Longwood Medical area. (I was actually familiar with Joslin before my internship interview mainly because I'd almost been run off the road into their lobby on my way to class once; never let anyone tell you that aggressive driving is not a thing in Massachusetts, because the whole Masshole thing is only kind of a joke.)
Prospect research, briefly, is identifying potential donors to Joslin, determining how much they are likely to want to donate, and maintaining an up-to-date database of all current donors with as much information as we can find about them. In other words, research, research, research. Prospect research falls under the development department umbrella, and most of the research requests we get come from fundraisers.
Joslin's prospect research internship is especially interesting, I think, because they only have one full-time researcher. I know Dana-Farber and other big organizations have a whole phalanx of people in research, which means everyone's jobs are very specific and probably a lot more repetitive. For my internship, I research individuals as well as corporations, foundations, and specific grants. In order to identify potential donors we read newspapers, magazines and annual reports (just to name a few sources) to figure out who is out there, who is giving where, and whether they might want to also give to Joslin. We generally look for companies and individuals who are based in New England or have given to New England non-profits before (lots of organizations only give locally, and we want to know that upfront), have an interest in diabetes or broader health care, and have the resources to make a donation.
Once I have a person or company in mind, I create a report on them using a template Joslin has - just general information (name, address, business, education, etc.) and a list of prior donations they've made in the healthcare field, so we have an idea of what their giving looks like.
We also go through our list of current donors and update them every few years. Did they change jobs? Get married? Move? It's all relevant information, and none of it is too personal. It is pretty amazing what you can find out about people, though, just from public records. My first day I ran a search on myself in the Lexis-Nexis database and came up with all kinds of information: old email addresses and phone numbers from high school, every place I've ever lived in the US (about 15 addresses total... oops), links to old roommates and voter registration information. Lots of it was accurate, but there were some mistakes, too, mainly in assuming that everyone I've lived with was a relative (why?) and wrong work information. Part of the job of a prospect researcher is to hunt down those mistakes before they end up in a report on a fundraiser's desk, which is why we cross reference and double check everything. It can be a little repetitive and tedious, but what I love is the puzzle aspect of it, trying to use clues to track down pieces of a person's life.
I'm hoping that in the next few months I can complete some really interesting projects and decide if prospect research is something I could actually do for a living.