Did you know that screening is the most common form of prospect identification conducted these days? As Helen Brown and Jen Filla mention in their book, Prospect Research for Fundraisers, whether you’re starting a campaign, building a professional fundraising program, trying to get to know your database better, or want to get in the habit of evaluating your donor database on a more regular basis, if wealth or prospect screening is available to you, this is likely where you will start.
When it comes to screening though, one size doesn’t fit all. Organizations differ dramatically in their fundraising department size, number of dedicated researchers, budget, fundraising focus, and cause. An ideal prospect for one organization may have a very small likelihood of giving to another. This is why it is so important to customize your prospect screening according to your nonprofit organization and its strategy. What good is a wealth screen if you don’t know how the results were derived and if the rating system used to score the prospects has nothing to do with your fundraising strategy? It would be like paying to go on a vacation where someone else chooses the location, schedule, and sets a budget five times yours.
Before we get too far along, let’s talk about the difference between prospect screening and wealth screening. Whereas wealth screening tends to focus solely on wealth or capacity to give, prospect screening includes ratings on the individual’s propensity or inclination to give and affinity to give, in addition to their capacity to give. Wealth screening usually only considers assets (properties are the most common), whereas prospect screening takes into account an individual’s capacity (wealth), along with their connection to your cause and inclination to give. This is where screening can provide real value. Knowing a prospect’s propensity and affinity provide further context to the wealth component.
So now your fundraising team has decided to undergo a prospect screening. Here are five (5) ways to customize your screening to align your results with your fundraising strategy.
At iWave, we’ve come across organizations of all shapes and strategies. For some organizations, capacity is all that matters. They feel that as long as someone has wealth, fundraisers can make them passionate about their cause. Other organizations don’t qualify a prospect unless she not only has wealth but also has some connection to the organization’s cause.
It is up to your organization to decide the importance of each of these aspects. Before you submit your screen, decide which combination makes the most sense for your team and select the weighting accordingly. For example, if you see all three components as equal, set each component’s weight as one third. If you’re only focused on capacity, maybe you’ll put 90% of the score’s weighing on capacity and only 5% on each of propensity and affinity.
Do false positives bring back bad memories? How about restrictive matching algorithms that return hardly any records? By preselecting the sensitivity of the screen’s matching algorithm, you can tailor how you validate and work with the screening results returned. For example, if you prefer to cast a wide net of potential records and then manually sift through to delete false positives, you would want to select a less restrictive screening tool or matching algorithm. Alternatively, if you want a smaller list of good records with a high confidence match, select a more restrictive algorithm. After the screen, you can always manually add more records as needed. Decide what the sweet spot is for your organization so you can customize your screening accordingly.
Many vendors will allocate additional “blank” columns within the screening file template for you to input information from your donor database that is not actually required for the screen. The benefit of taking advantage of these additional columns is that this information may help you sort and analyze the results of your screen more efficiently. For instance, standard columns like name, address, spouse, recency, frequency, and monetary inputs are very common to see in a screening template. Consider filling the additional columns with custom information such as volunteering, interests, children, etc. This makes your screen more efficient, comprehensive, and helps you prioritize ideal donors.
Screening scores and ratings can be over or underestimated if they are not tailored to your organization. For one organization a major gift may be any gift over $1,000. Elsewhere, a donation may not be considered a major gift unless it exceeds $25,000. You can have more trust in your scores and ratings if capacity ranges are set according to your organization’s strategy and criteria. To use the iWave Score as an example: a score of 1 is weak and a score of 4 is strong. However, the ability to customize the iWave Score to your organization’s strategy means no two iWave Score’s are calculated the same way.
Wouldn’t it be nice to not only rate how philanthropic an individual is, but also whether they are connected to your cause? This will not be possible in all screening tools. Where it is possible, however, an affinity rating can make a real difference to the value of your screen. This selection typically involves choosing from a list of NTEE categories and subcategories. The tool then rates the individual based on whether they have given gifts to organizations in the chosen category or whether they have board affiliations with organizations in that category. With this customization, your screening results not only demonstrate a history of philanthropy but also reveal your prospect’s passions. How’s that for a nice head start?
Traditional screening has come under some scrutiny lately for providing an incomplete picture and having too many false positives. But that doesn’t mean that screening can’t be a hugely valuable tool in your research and fundraising. As Helen Brown, Founder of HBG, noted in a recent post, “No matter which screening company you use, no matter if your organization’s database is tiny or gargantuan; every single nonprofit can get something great out of a wealth screening.” The new method of screening is all about customization, and it’s the number one key to getting that “something great” from your hard work and preparation.
About the author: Jill McCarville is iWave’s VP Marketing. Jill joined iWave in 2015 to lead the marketing and communication efforts. Prior to joining iWave Jill worked as a Director at an Innovation and Marketing consulting firm where she led new product ideation sessions, created campaigns, completed market research, and helped clients from Fortune 500’s to small businesses accelerate new products to market.