Foundation Research Tools – III

The Current Scene in Canada

Canadians are often sensitive to the question of whether a vendor is exclusively focused on Canada or whether they have followed the siren song of that huge market to the south, the USA.

PRO (Prospect Research Online) was marketed right away to Americans as well as Canadians and the company seems to have won a degree of market share down there over the years. As a business, Rainforest Publications went public as IWAVE in 1999 and then back to a private company in 2005.  Over time, their commitment to foundation research, particularly in Canada, has waned as they morphed into a compendium or re-distributor of 3rd party resources such as Zoom Info, Guidestar, HEP and others.

Most prospect researchers would now consider IWAVE’s PRO to be primarily a source of information on individuals rather than foundations.

The Canadian Centre for Philanthropy rebranded in 2004 as Imagine Canada which is how they are known today. They have continued to produce a modest but well respected online directory that is priced with the smaller organizations in mind. Their new release of Grants Connect may be a game changer, however.

Imagine Canada does far more than produce a directory. They are the major spokesperson for the charitable sector. When the government plans legislation that affects charities, Imagine Canada expects to be consulted. When they are not and they perceive that a correction is needed, they will publically advocate for the sector.

They have had new releases over the years but, until now, have never been real innovators. They are known for competent and reasonably current research. There is also a significant halo effect from their good works on behalf of an industry that is often misunderstood.

However, as I mentioned above, they have now released Grant Connect which promises to be a big jump ahead from their former directory. (Review to come)

Imagine Canada has been able to create a solid market niche as the charity vendor offering a very affordable alternative.

Their major competitor, Metasoft‘s product, FoundationSearch/BIGOnline, is much bigger and much more expensive, so the market profile of each is somewhat distinct.

Until 2002, Metasoft’s resource for not for profits was the BIG Database. Two years previously, they had begun to enter the US market and in order to swim in these faster waters, had to quickly ramp up the US resources on BIG. However, the next stage of Metasoft technical innovation was just around the corner.

Both Canada and the US had, as now, publicly available tax returns for foundations. Metasoft now released a tool for searching both across and within these returns.

In the USA, over 80,000 American foundation 990 returns became quickly searchable employing OCR technology and indexing. You could now search from within an individual return for the word ‘polio’, for example, or across all the returns for the foundations whose 990 included that word.

It was a real breakthrough and their closest US competitor (FDO) took three years to catch up.

Sadly Canada did not benefit from this innovation despite Measoft’s best intentions. The image quality of previously faxed returns (remember fax machines?) was too poor for the OCR technology to work properly. Eventually the searchable T3010s were withdrawn although the searchable 990s remained a mainstay of their US product for years to come.

Not done with innovation, Metasoft released the Grant Analyzer two years later. This tool was based on a large historic grant database that could produce reports in dynamic maps, charts etc. It was very slick and no one else had it. For the first time, the biggest and most expensive product was now also the prettiest. More importantly it provided an easy intuitive way to sort a large amount of data.

This feature was implemented in both Canada and the US and was a challenge to all competitors to meet and exceed what Metasoft had done.

I will be reviewing the latest release from Metasoft early in the new year.

In the last year, a new vendor has emerged which is aiming to challenge both Metasoft and Imagine Canada.

Ajah‘s Fundtracker emerged on the scene in 2011 and was quickly spotted by fundraisers as an interesting addition to the mix.

For the first time, a resource emerged from Montreal and the founder Michael Leczner pulls on a both a non-profit background and a solid understanding of the importance of technology to smoothly manage large amounts of data.

Can this newcomer successfully challenge two long standing competitors, Imagine Canada and Metasoft?  In coming weeks I will be looking closely at all three based on my own experience but I am also eager to hear of your experiences, observations and opinions.

In January I will publish a review of each resource in turn – incorporating both my own judgement and any feedback I get from others.

And I am also planning webinars on the topics of  how to effectively use these tools, what features to look for, and how to make the best selection based on your own particular needs.

Stay tuned!


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