Once you receive your prospect screen results back from a screening vendor, it might be tempting to pass this information to fundraisers for follow-up and instant major gift success. However, we don’t recommend that approach. Inaccurate results and false-positives are some of the reasons why some prospect researchers don’t trust screening.
And really, you shouldn’t trust screening – not until you, the researcher, verify the records. After all, screening is a tool in your toolbox. There is no replacement for the due diligence of research professionals (and we like to think there never will be). Part of prospect research is instinct, and that’s something even the smartest software can’t beat.
These days, some vendors meet researchers halfway. There are screening solutions out there like iWave Screening that put the power of analysis and verification in your hands right from the get-go. We’ll touch on that in a moment.
What are the necessary steps when verifying screening results? We’ve identified three to get you started:
The details of this step really depend on the size of your organization and the scope of your screening project. If you have a prospect research role, you will be at the front line when the results come back – verifying prospect information, adding records, and merging or deleting duplicates before packing profiles for the fundraising team. But if you are responsible for both research and fundraising, your time and focus will be stretched quite thin.
To help in either situation, look for customization of the record matching algorithms involved in the screen. At iWave, we call this Confidence of Match (COM). Essentially, this is a rank between 1-10 indicating the strength of the filter all records must pass through. The higher the COM, the stricter the record matching will be. Your screen returns fewer records, but they will have greater accuracy. A lower COM means you will receive more records, but these records require a human touch to verify accuracy.
Before submitting your screen, select your preferred COM depending on your role and time constraints. Prospect researchers may choose 3.4 so that they receive lots of records per prospect and can dive in to create comprehensive profiles for the fundraising team. Fundraisers and nonprofits without researchers on hand may choose a stricter COM, such as 4.3, if they need to screen prospects quickly before heading out to an event or meeting.
As Helen Brown and Jen Filla say in their Prospect Research For Fundraisers book, “…there are pitfalls associated with electronic screenings. Chief among them are false positives: assets linked incorrectly to an individual because that individual shares the same name as another. You’re certainly lucky if your prospects all have unusual names, but chances are that your database will contain more than a few Smiths, Joneses, and Browns. For example, to be sure that a vacation lakeside home hasn’t been falsely attributed to your Mr. Jones, someone will need to look at property records to verify that the valuable property does indeed belong to him.”
This is where prospect researchers really shine. It’s also where the right screening solution streamlines the verification process. For example, you can click into John Smith’s profile to see all the records (across all datasets) matched to him in the screen. From here, you can add records the screen might have missed. You can also delete records you believe aren’t relevant to this particular John Smith. Since the point of a prospect screen is to identify new major gift prospects (existing either within your database or externally, or both), confidence in results is paramount. You are the expert!
From the screen results, researchers can highlight the best prospects with the most major gift potential. Typically, this ranking relies on a scoring system that might be developed internally, adapted from industry standards, or both. We identify three main scores when determining your prospect’s potential:
Propensity – does your prospect have a history of philanthropy?
Affinity – does your prospect have a strong connection to your cause?
Capacity – does your prospect have enough wealth to contribute a major gift?
To help guide the ranking and prioritization process, iWave Screening includes the iWave Score. Using the billions of wealth, biographic, and philanthropic records in iWave, the iWave Score calculates how a prospect ranks in terms of propensity, affinity, and capacity.
Once you verify results and rank your top prospects, it’s time to integrate them into your major gift pipeline. Again, your actions in this next step depend on your role. But researchers and fundraisers can always learn something from each other. If you’re a researcher, ask your fundraising team what they’re looking for in a great profile. If you’re a fundraiser, sit down with your research team and ask them to walk you through their vetting process step by step.
The major gift cycle looks slightly different for each organization, but there is a general process most nonprofits follow. The big question here is: how many new prospects can a frontline fundraiser reasonably manage in a year? If your fundraising team is swamped, it might make more sense to perform smaller screen batches throughout the year to supplement their work – and to refresh prospect profiles on a regular basis to prevent data decay.
Prospect screening is just the first step in major gift research and fundraising. Therefore, your post-screen process needs to involve the right amount of time spent verifying results as well as a sense of urgency to keep the major gift pipeline flowing with up-to-date prospect profiles. If your team can strike the right balance, you can spend less time and fewer resources screening and focus your efforts on qualifying, cultivating, and stewarding the donors who will contribute the greatest aid to your cause.
About the author: Ryan McCarvill joined the iWave team in 2016. Ryan enjoys meeting and learning from nonprofit professionals, researching trends in the nonprofit community, and offering strategies for development teams to use iWave’s solutions to meet and exceed their fundraising goals.