Best Practices for Researching and Qualifying Parents as Major Gift Prospects
If you work at an education institution and aren’t looking at parents as major gifts prospects, you could be missing out. In fact, according to research discussed here, between 2000 and 2010 parent giving to higher education increased by 49 percent.
What makes dedicated parent fund efforts so important? There are a few reasons. Typically, parents require less cultivation time than alumni, so the solicitation timelines are shortened. When their child is enrolled, the parent has a proven interest in that child’s education. Thus, they have an affinity to the organization. And in some cases, as alumni themselves, they already know about the philanthropic opportunity.
Despite the potential gold mine of prospective parent donors, many institutions still have trouble leveraging their potential. This may be for several reasons, but one reason is the lack of standard qualifications and solicitation strategies for parents with the greatest giving potential. Many institutions tend to use a one-size-fits-all solicitation strategy involving mass solicitation rather that individualized outreach. But as Tara Patel puts it, “When fundraising staff focus on these broad efforts, they can’t effectively cultivate the small handful of parents who might actually be able to give those five-, six-, or seven-figure gifts.”
So what can you do to effectively qualify and cultivate the parents of your current students at your educational institution?
Here are some easy steps and tips to help you do more specific and targeted solicitation of parents:
First things first, don’t waste any time. The best time to approach parents is when their children are currently enrolled in your institution. As Patel explains, “Senior capstone gifts are only likely if the idea of such a gift has been introduced in their child’s first year and explored with a development officer in subsequent years.”
The next step (and probably the step all institutions are doing) is determining who the parents of the new students are. This procedure is different for different institutions, but generally the admissions department can provide a list of the new students.
Rather than deal with this whole list equally, segment it in an effort to weed out potential major gift prospects.
Professionals from the Department of Development Research at Lafayette College talk about their parent fund procedure in this presentation. They explain that financial aid is their first segmentation. This is a great first step. You can then filter out the individuals who are enrolled without financial aid or with merit-based aid only.
There are many other ways to segment your list, so depending on your organization you may have different starting criteria. What other segmentation filters does your institution use?
Organizations that have success with parent funds usually have something else in common. They have a systematic and regular way to obtain information from the parents themselves. Screen the top prospects from the parent pool using an external electronic screening tool. But prior to that, it is helpful to gather some information from the parents themselves. Information such as address, employment, and education information.
You can further segment this list using information obtained from the parents. An obvious segmentation is by educational background. As mentioned in a previous blog, affinity can be an excellent indicator of a top prospect. If the parents also attended your school, you have an excellent prospect on your hands. Try segmenting the list for parents of international students. In some cases tuition costs are greater for international students, so the parents of an international student attending without financial aid may be good candidates.
Use an electronic prospect or wealth screening tool to scan the segmented lists of parents. A screening tool will highlight prospects with the greatest potential. Depending on the screening tool you use, you will get a capacity rating for the individual and in the case of some tools, also a philanthropic rating and an affinity rating (their connection to your specific cause).
Using the results of the electronic screening and even supplementing the results with your data from your donor research tool, you can prepare an identification or qualification level profile for the gift officers.
Some of the key features to include in your prospect profile are:
- biographical and educational information, including the parent’s alma mater and any other children who have or may attend the same alma mater
- professional or business information on the individual, where they work, interest areas, foundation and board affiliations, volunteer activity
- philanthropic and political contribution history – charitable giving records and primary giving areas (i.e. education, human services, etc) and previous gift amounts
- wealth information – real estate holdings, net worth, estimated income, sec filings
Now you’re ready to hand over your top major gift prospects to gift officers. By preparing introductory profiles on the top prospects the gift officer can get to know individuals on a case-by-case basis and make an educated ask. Remember, parent fundraising is faster and requires shorter solicitation time so don’t spend too much time creating those profiles in step 6.
For some organizations, the parents of your students may represent a diamond in the rough for your fundraising strategy. The key is to remember that parents and alumni have different expectations and needs as donors. Whereas alumni relationships will be long and have a gradual cultivation schedule, the solicitation of parents should start early and be strategic. If you can get the ball rolling in year one, the odds of you landing the capstone gift before the window of opportunity closes are much greater.