By Elisa Shoenberger, Benchmarking Analyst, Grenzebach Glier and Associates
My organization has decided to do a wealth screening of our entire database. I’ve never been through a wealth screening before. What are the benefits of doing such a large screening? What should I be aware of before we start this process? All I’ve been told is that we have to go through and verify the information of 1000s of records. How do I do that? And is that even feasible? When we are done with the verification, what’s next? I’m so overwhelmed!
Wealth Screening Flummoxed
Take a deep breath. It’s going to be okay. Wealth screenings are a useful way of unearthing new prospects in your database. By matching people and their addresses from your database with possible assets and other data points, you can learn new information about people in your database. Many services can tell you about their real estate, securities, philanthropic giving, political giving, and much more. Some screenings provide demographic segments for the people in your database that could help in understanding a person’s philanthropic habits. Some screenings are quite comprehensive, including a large portion if not all of your fundraising database. Others may be smaller or more targeted based on the needs of your organization. There are also services that allow you to upload a list of prospects (like Parents or ticketholders) for a mini-screening. Some institutions set up continuous screening of ticketholders, new members, etc. based on their needs and what works best for your organization. You might want to consider a wealth screening every couple of years with some targeted screenings in between depending on what donor populations you want to look at.
From all of this data, you hopefully can replenish your pool of prospects with new major gift prospects to visit and qualify. Other opportunities from a screening could be developing a new pool of Planned Giving Prospects or Annual Giving Prospects. Through developing these types of pools, you may discover some annual giving prospects who have a very high capacity or you may learn that someone who had a low prospect rating has a lot of securities and may be worth a fresh look. Wealth screenings are very powerful and can aid the work of a prospect researcher enormously.
While these screenings can be immensely helpful, they also can be a lot of work both before and after you submit data. You mention that there are a lot of records and the information needs to be verified and common names such as John Smith can be tricky and slow the process down. How do you handle all that data? Having a plan for dealing with the wealth screening is very important. First you have to figure out how to handle the extra depends on a team’s time. Some shops have been known to go on a research freeze; only priority projects are worked on while the department work to verify gift capacities. Not all shops are able to do that and so it even more important to have a plan of action and a reasonable time line for verification to be completed. You may have to allot some of your time every day to the screening and the rest to the normal workload. Or you could try to schedule a day a week where you work exclusively on the wealth screening.
Second, how do you segment the wealth screening data? Chances are that you just won’t be able to get to everyone. So how do you do it? I would highly recommend a top down approach. Often times, wealth screenings will come up with a rating like $100,000 - $250,000 or a score. Some services will have a total of identified assets. Use these ratings, scores, and assets to prioritize your verification process. You may want to start at the very top rated prospects per the wealth screening or those with the highest number of identified assets. If you have a specific program or project you are working on, focus on that to help your prioritize. For instance, if you are helping a law school with their campaign, you may want to focus on law alumni with high number of assets. It would help to parse it out, by an area of interest like law or the arts or geographic areas. In other words, assemble small groups of people that need to be verified. For instance, you could create a group of all Illinois residents with a rating over $250,000+. In my shop, we’d try to segment it by about 250 people. That is way more manageable than 1000s. Dealing with the data in smaller chunks is a lot easier to comprehend and far more useful!
Third, how do you get your new prospects into gift officer portfolios? This likely will require discussion with management and major gift officers (and other officers) as well. A good approach would be to put together a list of new prospects that you think should be assigned overall or to a specific gift officer. Of course, as noted in previous Dear Analyst post, you may have to sell the prospects to get major gift officers interested in them. Some gift officers can be very eager for new prospects and make the process easier but we all know we will have to make a tough sell at some point. Another ideas would be to consider looking at the new prospects’ contact information to help aid gift officers in reaching out to the new leads. But that is very dependent on your availability!
As a final but important note, it will be important to set expectations with management at your institution. Also, some leaders may get very excited about the data and want the leads right now. While it’s great that they are onboard, you want to explain the importance of verification to ensure that you have the right data per prospect. You may have to show them your plan so they understand that it is a process and won’t happen overnight.
You are going to find a lot of new prospects but it probably won’t help as much with folks that you already know. Wealth screening can help uncover new prospects to support your mission, find new upgrade opportunities to build pipeline donors, and may help align high end donors to the right giving area. It’s an important complement to the efforts of prospect research and prospect management. These are just a few ways to help guide you as you handle your first wealth screening. Each screening is an opportunity and you should take full advantage of it! At the end of the process, you’ll have a new pool of prospects with lots of great information on their capacity!
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