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You have a great project. Now you need funding. Start by identifying your financial need. Create a detailed budget. This will be the basis of your business plan and a key piece of the proposal you make to your potential donor.

Next, look for people, foundations, and companies that have made a gift to similar projects. These entities are your prospects. Additionally, look for prospects who have expressed an interest in your work in some way. Perhaps they’ve made a small unsolicited gift or asked about your work.

Prospecting often starts with lists. Individual prospects are identified and additional information about them gathered to help know the prospects better.

Assembling the content for them is the primary challenge of course. Making the information in them look great can be challenging too.  A project I was working on a while ago gave me the opportunity to learn something new.

Libraries and government (both at the local and national levels) are excellent places to gain information (freely offered!) that can be used to shape strategy and develop cultivation activities. This information is provided as a service to United States citizens. Detailed below are suggested uses for public libraries and local county clerk’s offices.

Excel: Working with lists

Using Formulas and Functions

My first “a ha!” moment with Excel involved using a spreadsheet with information that needed cleaning up.  I was importing my information from numerous sources and found that each import also included different representations of text: some all caps and some not for example. This tip, from Judy Sampieri – an all-around data-maeven, saved the day. I’ve since been given great assistance with other functions and Excel processess from other talented information professionals.  In sum, Information Managers ROCK!  Here it is Judy’s awesome tip for using the Excel function, Proper.

  • Create a new column by the column you are editing.
  • Highlight the top cell of the new column (it must be selected).
  • In the worksheet top toolbar, select “insert” and then “function”.
  • The function you need to select is named “proper”. Proper’s definition: Capitalizes the first letter in a text string and any other letters in text that follow any character other than a letter. Converts all other letters to lowercase letters.
  • In the pop-up box that appears (Function Arguments), fill in the text field by clicking in the top cell of the column to be edited.
  • Hit “ok”
  • In the new column’s top cell, move your cursor to the bottom right of the cell until it forms a +.
  • Click and drag down the length of the column duplicating the length of the column to be edited.
  • Release
  • All of the new column should now be populated with the revised text.
  • Now select the entire new column and copy it (right click copy).
  • Now select the column to be edited, right click and select “paste special” and then select “values”. Paste in the revised text.
  • Delete the new column and you are done.
  • It sounds much fussier than it is. Perform these steps a few times and they will be yours forever. Additionally, your eyes will be opened to wonderfully helpful world of Excel functions.

If you find yourself with two spreadsheets containing different information but with one common unique identifier and you want to combine those spreadsheets, VLook-up is for you.  I searched the Internet for tutorials and while they were helpful, none were as detailed as I needed to be successful in this task.  After consulting an Excel guru and learning exactly how to use this powerful function, I created my own cheat sheet.  Here is a PDF of my efforts: VLook-up Cheat Sheet

Text to Columns
I’ve received many spreadsheets that will contain full names reflected in one column. That is not very helpful when you want to sort the information alphabetically, unless the last name is reflected first.  Or perhaps you need to upload this spreadsheet and wealth screen the content or even add the list to your donor database.  That name will need to be reflected in different columns.  Luckily, as long as the names are reflected consistently with either spaces or punctuation, that text can be split into columns.  Here is how.

  • Go to Data > Text to Columns
  • Select the cell or column that contains the text you want to split.
  • Click Data >Text to Columns.
  • This starts the Convert Text to Columns Wizard. Click Delimited > Next.
  • Check Space, and clear the rest of the boxes, or check Comma and Space if that is how your text is split (Smith, John, with a comma and space between the names). You can see a preview of your data in the Data preview window.
  • Click Next.
  • In this step, you pick the format for your new columns, or you can let Excel do it for you. If you want to pick your own format, select the format you want, such as Text, click the second column of data in the Data preview window, and click the same format again. Repeat for all the columns in the preview window.
  • Click the Destination button to the right of the Destination box to collapse the dialog box.
  • Select the cells in your workbook where you want to paste your split data. For example, if you are dividing a full name into a first name column and a last name column, select the appropriate number of cells in two adjacent columns. You might want to add extra cells, just in case.  It is a lot easier to delete the extra cells than it is to retrieve deleted information!
  • Click the Destination button to expand the dialog box, and then click Finish.

Using the public library for prospect research

Here’s an easy and free way to conduct some basic research. First, get a Houston Public Library card. They are free and will give you access to expensive resources on your own computer at home or at work. You don’t even have to go downtown to enjoy access. HPL pays for these resources and makes them available to their patrons via the HPL website. Some are available without the card but for those requiring the card, simply put in your name and your library card number. Hit submit and you are in. How’s that for service!

Research resources, ordered in categories, are available at:

An especially helpful database on business is located here:

Sample search:

I need information on what ConocoPhilips is doing in Houston right now.

Look for your answer on the right side of the screen under “Find Information by Category.”

Select “Business” and then select:

  • Hoover’s Company Records — Hoover’s is now available in our ProQuest database.
  • Dun & Bradstreet Million Dollar Database
  • Look for additional news in “Newspapers” and then in:
  • Houston Chronicle – Article Search (Full-text articles from the Chronicle from 1985 to the present.) *

* Additionally, you may select the Houston Chronicle (Digital Image Edition) — The past 45 days are available.

Ordering a will

You may ask, why do I need to order one? Well, it is entirely up to you and your organization. You may wish to find out who will be in charge of family assets after your donor has died. It is also possible that you need information on the capacity of a surviving spouse. Foundations may be created in a will.

Probated wills and their associated documents such as inventories are public documents. You may legally look at them. Of note, a recent change to the probate rules now lets families file an affidavit indicating that an inventory has been filed.  This means that the inventory contents are not now available to view – at least not online.  Stay tuned. There may be a field trip to the courthouse to check on this detail.  Older inventories are still available to view.

Use your best judgment and code of confidentiality. As with any research, you should guard the privacy of your constituents at all times. Wills let you who controls the estate’s assets. Inventories let you know what those assets are and frequently their appraised value. Wills are available usually about two weeks after the date of probate. Inventories are typically filed within 120 or 90 days after a will has been probated. Copies of probated wills and inventories “live” where the legal document has been probated. If your donor died in Houston, it is likely their will was probated here in Harris County. There are fees associated with the acquisition of these documents but they are nominal as a rule. You may also go to the probate department to view the documents if you don’t want to purchase copies.

For wills filed in Harris County: Call  (713) 274-8585 (Probate Court Records).

The search function on the Harris County Clerk Probate Court Department now allows the user to search by name and does not require the docket number.  If you want to obtain the docket number, you may use Courthouse Direct or the probate database to get it. Here are the URLs: