How to Prospect Research

Looking for training in researching prospective donors as part of prospect development? Helen Brown of the Helen Brown Group has several leads in her posting Expanding Your Prospect Research Horizons (Oct 27) that includes websites, the APRA association, and books.

Of particular interest to Canadians she notes a new book, Prospect Research in Canada.

Most excitingly, our cousins up North have just released a brand new book called Prospect Research in Canada! Edited by Tracey Church and Liz Rejman, two leaders (and forces of nature!) in our field, the book features expert authors taking a soup-to-nuts overview of fundraising research with a special focus on – but not limiting themselves solely to – Canada.

Boolean Strings for Searchers

Sharpen your search skills by following Boolean Strings, a blog on search strategies and tools by Irina Shamaeva. Her field is recruiting and sourcing: She is partner and chief sourcer at Brain Grain Recruiting; and she shares her search expertise through the blog and her book, 300 Best Boolean Strings. it’s not all about queries using AND, OR, NOT – she presents strategies and specific constructions at various sources for more exact searches. She shows how to use advanced search syntax effectively, and has developed a few Custom Search Engines at Google.

Boolean Strings was recently reviewed in the September 2016 issue of the BestBizWeb eNewsletter. Robert Berkman wrote, “In fact, it’s one of the most interesting and unusual blogs we’ve come across in a long time. It’s a great resource with lots of very smart research strategies, and is useful for beginners and advanced searchers alike.”

Lisa Louise Cooke Search Tip

Lisa Louise Cooke has a new tech-tip video for genealogists – Speak Google’s Language: Google Search Operator Basics. Many will know these two tips – using quotation marks and using OR – but Cooke’s explanations are elegantly simple and enjoyable. Where I would have been tempted to talk about building up concepts, she keeps it very simple by showing how to use OR to search on two formats for a person’s name.   The book she mentions (in her store) is one of the best guides to using Google I have ever come across.

Dealing with null results

Love this line from Greg Notess’ article Tips for Avoiding, or Celebrating, Zero Search Results in Information Today — “Only librarians like to search; everyone else likes to find”.

Notess examines the reasons for and the significance of a null set of results. Mostly, searchers need to know the structure and scope of the database; literary and academic databases are much different than Google; specialty searches such as for patents take special skills.

Researching ancestors through other people

Information about an ancestor might be uncovered by searching for people who lived nearby. Amy Johnson Crow recommends this technique in a recent posting – How to Find Your Ancestor by Researching Other People (Sept 15). Sources might be census records, marriage certificates, wills, directories.

Our ancestors did not live in a vacuum. They had extended family members, neighbors, business contacts, friends, and maybe an enemy or two. (Elizabeth Shown Mills refers to these “other” people as a person’s FAN club — friends, associates, and neighbors.)

Searching privately

Helen Brown gives us a good reason to use a search engine that does not track searches or pitch ads – Because it’s none of their business (Sept 8).  Of importance to the professional researcher, the filtering done by search and ranking algorithms may cloud results. Solution – use tools that don’t track but do have a broad reach. She offers a comparison of 13 search engines that indicates for an engine whether there are ads, personalized results, or  tracking.

Some to particularly note are:

Disconnect Search – web version of browser add-on. Operates through a proxy server to direct your queries to the search engine and the results back to you. See short video about the browser add-on. Also – more about Disconnect in Information Week — Disconnect Search: Google In Private (Mar 2014)

Duckduckgo – Bing-based but more of a meta search engine. Does not log any personally identifiable information.

Startpage – does not store personal history. But even more valuable is that  search results can be viewed  through the IxQuick Proxy. See StartPage Proxy Explained.

Oscobo in the UK claims to store no personal data. I suspect the web search results come from the Bing database. It also searches Twitter.

I have also used Carrot2, a meta-search engine developed in Europe (mostly Poland) that clusters search results by topic. Its web search uses Google and Bing. Carrot2 doesn’t promise privacy but as an intermediary it blocks personalization.

But for full privacy you may want to consider access through a virtual private network. Paul Gil at explains why — 10 Reasons to Use a VPN for Private Web Browsing