Bursting the ‘Internet Search Bubble’


I hope many of you had the chance to read through Lindsey Fila’s YNPN blog post “Cut Through the Clutter: Top Information Resources for Nonprofit Professionals.” It reminded me that a 21st century challenge is not necessarily finding information. It’s more important than ever to know how to separate the wheat from the chaff, especially when you’re searching online. It’s vital to track down those critical blog posts while avoiding the content farms. As someone who works in the donor research field, one of my gifts is to help my co-workers do precisely that.

Donor (prospect) researchers identify and prioritize supporters who are most ready, willing, and able to support your non-profit. This process makes sure your non-profit doesn’t spend limited resources pursuing those who have no interest in your mission. It further allows the nonprofit to efficiently and intelligently steward past donors and cultivate new ones. As an information professional, I’d like to share several tips on how to make sure you find that crucial piece of information you might have otherwise missed.

If you’re using a popular internet search engine like Google, you may notice it tries to be “helpful” and attempts to proactively find information it thinks you want. However, this over-reliance on past searches can have unintended consequences. Wall Street Journal reporters investigated this issue and how it can affect even online price comparisons. The price of the very same widget at the very same online store can change depending on IP address, geography, and whether a competitor is close by. There’s a TED talk that illustrates this phenomenon nicely. Short of forswearing online searching, what can be done? Give any or all of these tips a try and see how that changes what you find.

1. Use search engines that anonymize your search

a. https://duckduckgo.com – is a current expert searcher favorite
b. https://ixquick.com
c. https://disconnect.me/search

If you just can’t do without your favorite search engine, change the default settings to stop automatically tracking your search history and delete your cookies regularly. Another pro tip is to proactively change your “location”. Find the location setting and switch out Chicago for Montreal and I’ll bet you start seeing new and different results in French!

2. Speaking of our northern friends, this technique even works when finding information outside the US. You may not have realized that many search engines have different country versions. For example, if you go to Google India you can search in nine languages including Telugu, one of that country’s many local languages. Not only are there different country versions of global search engines, there are also homegrown ones.Baidu was created in China and searches in Chinese characters.

3. Use different search engines. Each interface has its own strengths and weakness and you don’t want to accidentally miss a crucial result just because you’re depending on your favorite search engine to find you everything. While Google is popular, it is not the only one – give Bing, Blekko, or DuckDuckGo a try and be amazed what new leads you find. So go ahead, give your critical thinking skills a try. You can start small – type your favorite non-profit’s name into DuckDuckGo and compare the results to those of your usual search engine. And then wonder what other valuable nuggets you can find with your upgraded 21st century skill set. If you’re eager to learn more ways to build additional supporters based on solid information, read on!

• Donor Research Skills Workshop June 6th – Identify your best supporters at a one day workshop. It will introduce donor research skills to NGO professionals wearing multiple hats and help nonprofits reach new supporters.
• APRA Illinois – knowledge and networking for local fundraising professionals
• Donor’s Forum and its library – If you can’t attend the APRA IL’s donor research workshop, this Loop based organization offers free fundraising sources to the public.
• Donor research as a profession 

Sabine Schuller (MLIS) creates and oversees business development strategy by identifying supporters worldwide as a Research Specialist at The Rotary Foundation. She especially enjoys building other people’s search and critical thinking skills. Previous work as an international business development analyst and a program officer helped prepare for her current work in donor research. She is a proud board member of APRA-Illinois. @s_schuller