The iWave Roundtable Returns!

Welcome to another edition of the iWave Roundtable, where we gather some of the best minds in the nonprofit community to discuss all things prospect development and fundraising.

This time around, we are joined by an esteemed group:

Vidya Kagan — Director of Data Management and Research, Menlo School

Paul D’Alessandro — President, D’Alessandro Inc.

Ryan Marshall — Prospect Development Analyst, Concordia University, St. Paul

Mary Richter — NY Fundraising Consultant

There’s a lot of talk about women taking charge of philanthropy. Do you have a unique strategy(ies) for researching or soliciting women donors? Why or why not?

Vidya: It’s awesome to see that more women are taking leadership roles at their companies, in their communities, and with philanthropy. We develop relationships with all of our donors, thinking of the right way to approach each of them because everyone has different motivations and interests. We don’t have a specific strategy when researching or soliciting women. I apply the same thought process to everyone in our prospect pool.

Paul: Strategy typically depends on age and marital status – married, single, divorced, widowed – Yes, there are a lot of women in philanthropy (giving and in the sector (leadership and boards). Ultimately it comes down to the relationship with the organization and the desire to fund the mission. At the start of my career (30 years ago) the “ask” was different then today. Now I see much greater independence – if they want to do it then they typically will. Also, more women have greater personal resources to do what they want.

Ryan: I have noticed an interesting trend in our more significant female donors. A vast majority of our new annual scholarships have been established by our executive level, female alumnae, and do not have their name on the scholarship. The gifts have been quick to cultivate because they are so passionate about empowering those of similar backgrounds.

Mary: I have worked at two K-12 girls’ schools so I have thought a lot about women as donors. I think women are generally easier to engage than men, because they like to be engaged and involved, and most often, they’re more likely to respond to approaches that pull at their heart strings. I do think that women enjoy a more heartfelt, warmer and more genuine ask than men, too, and may want to have more than one meeting to make a big commitment. I was once told that women need to have $50mm in the bank to feel rich, whereas men feel rich with $1mm-$5mm, so I think it’s important to remember that women may be less likely to think of themselves as major gift prospects than men might.

What are your go-to markers or indicators for a great major gift prospect? Is it real estate, salary, past giving, something else?

Vidya: I primarily look at business information, philanthropy, volunteerism (boards), involvement with foundations, and real estate. I definitely look at other people they are connected to (spouse, parents) because this family dynamic may uncover additional data that can be useful in our work.

Paul: I look at everything. Real Estate and salaries can be misleading as they may be a real indicator of the wealth — it gives an affirmation that you are headed in the right direction. I still like to have converstaions with people in the community or friends who truly know the potential donor. Data is good but alone is not going to give you the whole picture. Same is true with past giving -I’ve received $250,000 gifts from donors who just give $100 annually.

Ryan: I like looking for multiple property ownership. That tells me that they either had enough cash on hand to buy the property or a bank was willing to give them a second mortgage. Recognizing that there are assumptions built in here and banks don’t always enforce a strict guideline of borrower responsibly, I try to pair this with other findings to increase my confidence. LLC’s associated with their address and identifying lifestyle indicators on social media help round out great prospects. I pair that with our engagement score (which includes giving, events, interactions, etc.) to help gauge warmth of the prospects and provides further guidance for the DO’s. I want a combination of known affinity and moderate capacity. We have a better chance to close a gift with someone who is already interacting with us.

Mary: I think philanthropy is the most important indicator of a prospective donor’s inclination to support your cause. They could be as capable as Bill Gates but if they don’t give their money away, it’s a bigger uphill battle for you. To assess capacity, I look at real estate only to see what they paid for their home(s) and if they have loans on the home(s). You can learn a lot about someone’s wealth by examining how they live – do they rent at a high level, did they inherit a home, do they treat their home like an ATM? Of course, compensation is very important, and when you meet donors, you can find out things like what they hope to accomplish with their philanthropy.

What strategies or methods do you use to keep your research skills sharp?

Vidya: I read a lot! I keep up with industry blogs, attend webinars and conferences, and network with other researchers.

Paul: Constantly reading and looking at technology trends. Paying attention to the markets here and aborad and staying close to my friends at organizations with staff conducting prospect research. APRA is also a good resource.

Ryan: I compete with others in the office to find information online. While it isn’t a daily occurrence, there is always contact information find or mystery gifts that come in that create these opportunities. The added dimension of competition helps me keep my approaches streamlined and find new sources of info. I subscribe to list serves and follow news aggregators to keep the constant changes in the world connected to our constituent base.

Mary: I can’t say that I do much to keep my skills sharp, I just keep researching and finding new ways to uncover data points.

What’s the next major data, philanthropy, or technology trend that could change nonprofit development?

Vidya: Artifical intelligence (AI) is on the rise and I think it can be a very useful tool for us in the future. I think increased personalization and customization will be increasingly important in the future. The more specific you can be with a donor, the better.

Paul: I definitely think artificial intelligence (AI) is going to have a big impact on development.

Ryan: Advances in automation and neural networks like with Google Duplex are exciting to me. Duplex will make calls for you. It has the flexibility to adapt in real time to conversations while making a reservation. This could be adapted to discovery phone calls. Deploying this tech could help verify a new phone number and have the successful connection converted an appointment, all outside of normal operating hours. There are platforms that write emails for you in development already. This is a natural extension of that technology, but needs time to mature for more generalized use.

Mary: I think we should watch closely what happens with payment tools like Venmo, which doesn’t currently encourage charitable giving. Also, the terrific idea of a giving day like Giving Tuesday may tire some people out, but I think it’s a signal that directed approaches that are global – similar to get out the vote operations and the ice bucket challenge – are effective. How else can we use the community to heighten the focus on philanthropy?

What are your interests beyond prospect research and/or fundraising? Do they help you in your daily work in any way?

Vidya: Toastmasters (public speaking), reading, cooking, volunteering, and listening are my general interests. When I say “listening,” I mean listening to other people, attending events, and listening to podcasts. It’s amazing what you can learn when you focus on other people! Being a good listener helps me in my work every day.

Paul: One of my interest is nonprofit law. I started my career as an attorney so I keep up with the changes in laws affecting Tax Exempt Organizations as part of my continuing legal ed. This helps give me insight to some of the changes that will affect giving. The same is true to paying attention to the markets, DAF’s and new ways of giving.

Ryan: Psychology, technology, programming, data management…. these are all things I use everyday but have a genuine passion for outside of work. I also have a small homestead which has forced me to acquire new skill sets that have become interests, but tend not to overlap with work. Raising animals and creating with my hands helps keep me grounded in what is my otherwise technologically driven life.

Mary: Hikes and walks in nature, food/wine/cooking, reading, travel. I stay current with the news and books for my own interest, but it definitely helps to make conversations with intellectual donors!

Thank you to our iWave Roundtable participants.

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