Nonprofit Technology & Fundraising Blog
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In 1993, as a new employee at a wealth screening company, I was invited to visit an Ivy League university to discuss a possible project. I walked into the office of the director of research, a highly intelligent and efficient professional with a great deal of credibility both internally and in the industry, and sat down to discuss what they had done to date and their current needs. Almost immediately, I noticed a stack of binders almost five feet tall in one corner of the office. These were the results of the last screening, the director explained, already gathering dust after just a few short months.
Later, I came to realize both in my own work and in talking with other vendors that prospective donor screening results often languished. One of the analogies was that purchasing a screening, which then averaged $25,000, and not using it was akin to purchasing a BMW and leaving it parked in the garage.
Today, the cost of a BMW has risen but the cost of most screenings has fallen dramatically. Screenings have also increased in quality in a way that would be the envy of any automobile manufacturer. But still screening results can languish, although they are now in the dust free environment of electronic deliverables rather than binders and no longer embarrassingly visible to office visitors.
Why do so many of these screening results go unutilized? It’s not a lack of value. In fact, if every organization had the benefit of a screening and made full use of it I am convinced that far more money would be raised. These are inexpensive instruments that bring tremendous focus and insight to development activity. Used well, screenings can make fundraisers far more efficient, sensitive and effective. They can often contribute facts that give fundraisers the confidence to ask for more money.
So if the problem isn’t the screening services, what is the impediment to implementation? There are any number of reasons, both good and bad, ranging from mistiming the need for results to inadequate planning for review and distribution of data and from a change in staff between the time of contracting and delivery to inability to get development officers to visit with new leads. In short, it is often a matter of poor planning and communications.
Through the years of watching good screening results sit idle, I began my own back of the envelope list of steps organizations could take prior to conducting a screening which might help to make the process more successful. So, here is my checklist for the top six things an organization should consider when embarking on a screening:
Hopefully, these six items will make clear the goals, roles and responsibilities that will make for a successful project and not be a hindrance to undertaking the screening. The idea is to add clarity, not time. In fact, if done in a straightforward and direct manner, it could accelerate the process of reviewing your screening options and, most importantly, putting the screening results to effective use immediately upon delivery.
So what should organizations steer clear of as they explore screening services? There are a number of practices which are big “no-no’s” but unfortunately very commonplace in the fundraising world. Here’s my list of things to avoid:
Many of these comments assume that you may conduct a screening which appends factual data, especially wealth and ownership data, to your file. There are, however, other screening services which either create a custom model on your file or provide results which are predictive in nature. These types of services can be very useful but they cannot replace the value of knowing something factual about specific individuals or their relative financial capacity. In fact, having a strong supply of factual data on your constituents can make modeling more powerful.
Wealth Screening has always been a powerful instrument for development. The increase in available factual data and the decrease in cost over the last few years make the barrier to using a screening service very low indeed. Combined with the uncertainties of the impact of the financial crisis on our donors, there has probably been no better or more important time to run a screening. All the more reason to hold ourselves and our organizations to some strong standards as we decide how best to get started.Donor Wealth Screening: To Screen or Not to Screen