The holidays are nearly here and, for many of us, the joy of the season can be overshadowed by the exasperation of endless expectations. When we consider all that is expected of us these days, it is amazing more of us aren’t simply going crazy. And, when you factor in that fundraising professionals have the added burden of year-end being the busiest time of the year, it becomes essential to find ways to get more done with less time.
Theoretically, prospect screening should be one of those things. Since the advent of affordable screening services, those of us charged with providing these services have touted their ability to make prospect identification and qualification more efficient. However, as demonstrated by a number of frustrated calls I have received in the last few weeks, including one individual who mused that she had just spent two hours reviewing one individual’s wealth results, it would seem that many purchasers of these services may have a bit of “buyer’s remorse” when they begin to sift through the vast amount of information in front of them.
What’s going on here? Are we somehow missing the boat and making life more stressful rather than less? After giving it some serious consideration, I have concluded that we haven’t missed the boat. However, we also may not be completely successful at encouraging realistic goal setting when we promote the value and benefits of prospect screening.
Back in the day, as us baby boomers like to say, only “elite” development research shops seriously considered purchasing an array of screening services. End users of these services had a pretty good idea how to use the results and either opted to devote a significant amount of time to verifying each bit of information, or determined a strategy of “how good” was good enough when reviewing and confirming wealth data.
Today, however, the spectrum of end users has broadened significantly, which is a good thing! Now, it isn’t unusual for 1-2 person shops to have the ability to and interest in purchasing screening services. And, since many of these shops are staffed with fundraising generalists rather than research specialists, they most likely have a wider scope of responsibilities with more limited exposure to researcher fundamentals.
So, in this season of hustle and bustle, I would like to offer these “Research Newbies” three simple steps on how to accomplish what most of us intend to achieve when purchasing prospect screening services: a more efficient (read: quicker!) way to identify and qualify prospects.
- Don’t overthink it! Are you staring at hundreds of philanthropic gifts, dozens of pieces of real estate and oodles of non profit affiliations and wondering: “How do I possible review all of this?” If so, allow yourself to accept this simple answer: You don’t!
- Determine what you truly need to know about a particular individual when reviewing his or her screening results. You may be shocked to hear that the answer to this question isn’t “everything I can.” Screening isn’t a magic bullet. It isn’t intended to singlehandedly replace other research or discovery calls. It is intended to answer the question: Should I give this person additional consideration?
- With this in mind, create a list of three basic questions to ask as you review each prospect (and perhaps tape the list to your computer lest you are prone to forget!)
- Does there appear to be greater wealth than I previously assumed?
- Is the individual philanthropic and if so, to what type of organization(s) and to what extent?
- Is there anything here that I didn’t know before that would justify a Google search or discovery call?
If you can answer any of these questions with a firm “yes”, I would encourage you to stop! Don’t spend two hours, or even 30 minutes, confirming each philanthropic gift! Instead, take some proactive action—add the name to a list for board review, pick up the phone and invite the prospect to lunch, or simply run the name through your favorite search engine. You have a potential prospect on your hands! Don’t allow yourself to get lost in the data and lose sight of your real goal: To Raise More Money! Remember that screening is intended to make you more efficient, not less. If the results have pulled this individual out of the depths of your annual fund and brought him or her to your attention, you have made significant progress. Move on to the next record and smile as you think about that glass of holiday nog waiting for you when you get home from work tonight!
Are you a prospect screening “newbie” who has learned some important lessons you would like to share with peers? If so, post them to this blog or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. We all have stories to tell—I would love to hear yours!
*Laura Worcester is a consultant for Target Analytics. You may reach her at email@example.com.