I cannot remember how many times I would have a major gift officer ask me the age old question: “can you please give me a list of all of John Smith’s charitable giving?” When I was a researcher in-the-field, some charitable donation search tools existed, but doing my own web research often proved the most comprehensive. However, my research could have taken hours and I would still have been left with a list of ‘possibilities’ and not confirmed gifts. Often times it was too difficult for me to tell if the John Smith who made a gift to ABC Organization was the same John Smith my MGO was interested in.
These days most researchers have access to charitable donation information via a wealth screening they may have done or through a direct subscription to a company that provides such data. These services are quite good in saving the time of your own exhaustive web research. However, often times the number of matches you receive on a specific prospect can be quite large – even well into the hundreds – and you, the researcher is still left with a significant amount of clean-up work trying to decide the ‘possibilities’ vs the confirmed giving.
One of the reasons for this, and one of the challenges of using charitable donation information in general, is that the sources providing aggregated giving information are pulling data primarily from annual fund reports and honor rolls published by non-profits. As we all know, these listings tend to be name-only matches which make confirmed matching quite difficult.
The biggest piece of advice I could give is not to attempt to confirm every single gift found on a specific prospect. The time expended may not be worth the effort as it is likely to be an insurmountable task. To help you prioritize your verification work, here are some suggestions:
- If you have spouse information on file for your prospect, first start by looking for gifts that were made with both names in the listing, like “John and Jane Smith.”
- While common names can still produce duplicate couples (i.e.: two couples with the names “John and Jane Smith”), the likelihood of this is much smaller than using a match on only one name. I generally assume that when both names in the donation listing match the two names I have on file for the couple that it is a correct match.
- Following spouse matches can also help you quickly eliminate all gifts matched to a couple where the spouse name is different, or where you know the individual is not married and the gift was made by a couple. While this does not necessarily take divorce scenarios into consideration, it will still provide you with an adequate way to start narrowing the pool of potentially correct matches. Further, many couples who divorce change their philanthropic priorities after a divorce is finalized. You never know whether the gift you are looking at was spurred by John’s interest in the organization, Jane’s interest, or both. Without other data to rely on, it i best to eliminate all of these matches.
- Determine what is important to you. Is amount the prospect is giving important, to help you determine someone’s philanthropic capacity? Is it the types of organizations and programs the prospect supports important, to help you determine if someone may be interested in supporting your mission? Or, is it both? Try reorganizing your list in different ways.
- Sort/query your results in descending order by gift amount. Why focus on trying to confirm every gift if the larger gifts may be what helps you most? Remember that giving levels displayed will match how the organization published their report and you may see wide variances in giving ranges. Also remember that some services have a default of $0 when an organization simply publishes an honor role listing donors without specific amounts.
- Or, sort/query your results by gift category/type (usually annual fund, campaign, etc.) by organization type (education, arts & culture, housing & shelter, etc.) or by a specific cause (scholarships, folk art, homeless shelters, etc.). Be creative and use the areas that best fit your organization’s mission or the specific program area you are looking to the prospect to help fund.
- Don’t be afraid to ask your MGO to help. Providing a list with charitable giving that you are confident is connected to the correct John Smith and a secondary list of additional possibilities where you cannot make a determination is a legitimate way to proceed. After all, the gift officer will have ample opportunity during cultivation to try and confirm some of the matches based on conversations with the prospect.
- Finally, do not assume listings received from any source are comprehensive. While aggregated giving can be a huge time saver, and can help you catalogue charitable interests and philanthropic capacity, no source will be able to provide you with a complete listing of all gifts made by an individual. First of all, not every organization publishes an annual fund report or an honor roll. And, those that do often set bottom-level limits whereby they do not publish giving information under a specific dollar amount. And second, no source claims to have catalogued every single annual fund report and honor roll that has been published. Even still, the charitable giving you can find will be incredibly helpful in understanding your prospects further.