Welcome to the Researchers in Fundraising: Best Practice Guide and Handbook for Prospect Research

This Handbook has been designed to provide a comprehensive guide to the skills, knowledge, and resources required by those working in the fields of prospect research and prospect development. The Handbook aims to ensure that those working in prospect research are equipped to undertake successful and ethical prospect research, and to understand the breadth of tasks and responsibilities that can often form part of a prospect researcher’s wider remit.

Whether you are new to the field, or a seasoned professional, you will find guidance and wisdom in these pages that will enhance your skills and enable you to excel. If you are keen to understand the role of ethics in research and the practical implications of ethical good practice, or to increase your knowledge of data and technical skills essential to the role, then this is the guide you have been looking for. This Handbook will also help you to understand the professional standards associated with good practice when working as part of a wider team of development professionals. If you are looking to the future, this Handbook provides a comprehensive view of the potential career pathways within, and branching out from, prospect research. Researchers working at all levels, including those who manage researchers and recruit researchers, will find in this Handbook what they need to thrive.

In short, this is the ultimate guide to prospect research, prospect development and fundraising intelligence in the UK, written by a colossal team of prospect research professionals from numerous countries who volunteered a huge amount of time to collectively discuss, write, review, amend and finalise the content. What has resulted is a crowd-sourced resource from a brilliant hive mind of professionals. Anyone who uses this Handbook owes an enormous debt of gratitude to all those who volunteered their time and who were generous enough to share their hard-earned expertise and knowledge.

Before you get started with the Handbook, it is worth outlining what prospect research is for anyone new to the field (including those who may have stumbled into it by accident).  Prospect research has been described as “…the identification of, and subsequent research into, potential major donors”[1]. Prospect research is at the heart of an efficient major donor programme in any high performing non-profit or institution. The insight and information provided by a well-resourced and experienced prospect research team can be invaluable in ensuring that the right donors are asked for the right donations at the right time. Prospect research is relevant for any size or type of non-profit organisation that is interested in starting or improving a major donor programme. The Chartered Institute of Fundraising argue that investment in prospect research is “…the core activity that should fuel major gift operations”[2]. Over 94% of non-profit organisations make use of prospect research[3], although it is typically more prominent and well-resourced in larger non-profits and educational institutions.

Alongside prospect research, this Handbook also includes a huge amount of information on prospect development. This encompasses the management of data and systems that support major gift fundraising and which usually, to a greater or lesser extent, form a relatively significant part of any prospect researcher’s role.

Working in prospect research can be an intellectually stimulating and intensely rewarding career, particularly for people with an insatiable curiosity who enjoy approaching problems with a methodical and strategic mindset. It is hoped this Handbook will inspire and empower prospect researchers, now and in the future, to collectively raise the game in this field and shine a light on the incredible work that is done by our community around the globe to help identify, engage and inspire generations of philanthropists.

The Handbook is being published electronically meaning it will be readily available to prospect researchers at any time, in any place, and on any device with a web browser.

With over 25 chapters being created, we decided to publish each chapter once it is completed rather than waiting for the entire Handbook to be written. This means that once you purchase the Handbook you will have access to all the current content and to all content published in future.

With chapters covering a broad range of prospect research related topics, there is something for everyone in the Handbook. Our writers have taken care to include content relevant to researchers in organisations of all shapes and sizes and to researchers at all career stages.

Unlike many publications of a similar nature, we don’t have a publishing house or team of professional editors supporting us. Whilst this has provided challenges, we have nonetheless been able to work collaboratively and develop a thorough writing, editing, and review process for the Handbook to ensure the content is of a high standard with volunteers contributing at every stage.

This is a summary of the content creation and editing process a typical chapter will go through before publication.

Given the diversity of the prospect research sector and the complexity of the organisations and contexts in which prospect research is carried out, it is simply not possible for us to write a definitive ‘how to’ style guide. Often there won’t be clear-cut yes or no answers to many of the questions you may have about carrying out your research.

Instead, what you will find in the Handbook is informative, insightful content about carrying out the varied aspects of your role that will support you to identify the approaches and practice most relevant to your own circumstances. Alongside this you will also find plenty of top tips, case studies, and handy examples from colleagues in the field who have happily shared their own experiences in the hope that these will be of benefit to others. The aim is not to give you all the answers, but to help you be able to come to the right answers for your organisations.

The information in this Handbook is necessarily of a general nature, the guidance is not a substitute for proper process or legal advice, and specific advice should be sought for specific situations. The Handbook cannot provide a short-cut to legal compliance and is not a substitute for undertaking your own assessment of how well you are meeting legal and regulatory requirements for the countries and regions in which you carry out your research.

Further, whilst a wide variety of tools, products, and services are mentioned in the Handbook as our writers describe the way they carry out there own research, these mentions shouldn’t be taken to be endorsements or recommendations. You must always undertake your own research and decision making process to identify what is most appropriate to your own setting and ensure that it is in keeping with your procurement policies and and any other organisational requirements and restrictions.

In addition to 25-plus topic-based chapters, the Handbook also includes the following reference guides to help you:

  • The Glossary: your ultimate resources for jargon-busting your way through prospect research containing definitions for a multitude of every day, and not so common, words and phrases.
  • The Resource Chapter: your handy companion for finding out more information about the topics contained in the Handbook including resources such as websites, blogs, training courses, books, journals, and more.
  • The State of the Sector Chapter: a snapshot of prospect research in 2020 with data gathered from nearly 90 prospect researchers via our extensive questionnaire, alongside comparisons to 2014 showing what has changed for the sector. This chapter will help you get to grips with the norms and trends for many different elements of prospect research.

We hope that your experience with the Handbook is both enjoyable and informative. If you feel that you have something to offer back to the Handbook and would like to volunteer, there are ongoing opportunities to get involved. Visit the ‘Get Involved’ page for more details on the different ways you can support the Handbook through volunteering.

Want to get in touch with us about the Handbook? You can contact us with your inquiry.


  1. Filla, J. & Brown, H. 2013. Prospect Research for Fundraisers: The Essential Handbook. New Jersey: Jon Wiley & Sons.
  2. Chartered Institute of Fundraising (2018) Connecting People to Causes: a Practical Guide to Fundraising Research. [online] Available at: <https://ciof.org.uk/IoF/media/IOF/Policy/iof-connecting-people-to-causes-(3).pdf?ext=.pdf> [Accessed 8th April 2021]
  3. Breeze, B (2017) Good Asking; The Role of Research in Efficient, Effective and Enjoyable Fundraising. [online] Available at: < https://ciof.org.uk/events-and-training/resources/good-asking-the-role-of-research-in-efficient,-eff> [Accessed 21st March 2022]
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