Those of us who have been in development for a while have seen many things change over the years. One of the biggest of these has been the growth of prospect research in general and prospect screening in particular. Way back in 1984, when I first started as a researcher at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, we hung out at the historical society making copies of documents and microfiche. Seems pretty funny now.
Today, of course, technology has changed every aspect of our profession. Not only is research conducted almost entirely online, but tools we couldn’t even imagine back then are now commonplace. In many development offices prospect screening is a foregone conclusion. It isn’t a question of “whether”, but more of “when” and “how often”.
Fortunately, the growth of prospect screening has also introduced a diversified host of services and products. While it used to be that screening was almost exclusively done by “big” research shops, today’s one- or two-person staffs can surely find an effective service that meets their budget. As a consultant charged with presenting screening results to organizations large and small, I still get a bit of a thrill when I know I will be working with a small shop, since I know the monumental impact screening results can have on a non-profit with limited resources and staffs.
So, how does a small office—often staffed by individuals with no prior screening experience—select the “right” screening tool? To say I could write a book on that topic is probably not much of an exaggeration; however, some general rules of thumb to consider when making this investment can be summed up fairly concisely:
- PEOPLE: If you are embarking on this for the first time, it is critical that you can freely ask questions and feel as if they are being understood and answered. It helps tremendously to have someone who truly “gets” fundraising. Lots of different companies claim to “screen” donors these days—make sure they truly get what your ultimate goal is: to raise more money. If the representative doesn’t seem to understand your fundraising questions, move on to one that does.
- SERVICES: The scope of services available can be daunting—and, for many of us who aren’t exactly statisticians, just the terminology can be overwhelming. Predictive modeling, data mining, electronic screening, wealth searches, match rates…the list is endless. Many things go into determining what the best service would be for your organization. Don’t let a fast talking account representative sell you something you aren’t going to use. Do your due diligence and talk to some fund raising colleagues who have done this before. It will help you learn a little about the options prior to talking to a particular vendor. You don’t have to be a statistician, but it does help to be informed.
- BUDGET: The old adage that you “get what you pay for” is true to some extent in the screening business. That said, you certainly don’t need to spend a fortune to get useful information. Depending on the size of your database, you might be surprised what a nominal investment can buy. And, when you consider the potential return on that investment, it most likely makes sense to take that first step. Most successful development professionals know you have to spend a little money if you expect to raise any. Just make sure that you are getting the best bang for your buck.
Obviously I am a little biased as to where you can find the best of all of these things: experienced fundraising professionals who have walked a few miles in your shoes, a diversified menu of services that truly can meet the needs of any development office, and quality services for reasonable prices. Better yet, take a look at Lawrence Henze’s white paper on making decisions about screening. It can be found here: http://www.blackbaud.com/filesresources/downloads/WhitePaper
And, as always, feel free to email me or any members of our consulting team directly if you have questions about screening services. I can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Contact info for other Target Analytics consultants can be found at the end of most all blog postings. Happy screening!
*Laura Worcester is a consultant for Target Analytics. You may reach her at email@example.com.
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