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Attention Small Nonprofits—Donor Screening Services Are More Tangible Than You Think

Resource Center - Foundation

When one of your fundraising peers put a plea on AFP’s official LinkedIn group, On Fundraising, about donor screening services for small shops—whether they’re beneficial, and which ones were best—several of you chimed in! David Unger, a management and development consultant, was one of them, and we touched base with him to get some more details on this boisterous discussion topic taking place on LinkedIn. Not only does Unger think donor screening services are important for small nonprofits, but he walks you through the pros and cons of different services.

Small to mid-size nonprofits have many of the same challenges that larger nonprofits have raising funds, but also have many unique challenges that larger organizations do not necessarily have. Unless you have worked in a smaller nonprofit, these challenges may not be as obvious. With over 15 years of experience being executive director  in a small nonprofit, and almost 11 years consulting with small to mid-size nonprofits, I have found that even the smallest nonprofit can benefit from the resources available to the larger nonprofits, if they create a set of reasonable goals and expectations. 

With my consulting practice working with a Donor Management System, I have contact with almost 100 different nonprofits each month. When I talk to the executive or development director about their fundraising/development plan, most of the smaller nonprofits do not even consider using a dedicated wealth/donor screening program because of the perceived costs and the perceived resources needed to achieve this.

Using a wealth screening service can not only be costly but potentially use extensive (and precious) staff resources. Here are three tips I have learned to help smaller nonprofits with accessing wealth/donor screening: 

  • Make sure you have the appropriate leadership/committee “buy in” to this, as you will most likely be searching personal information about these individuals or family members.
  • Understand that the information from these searches may not be 100 percent accurate. (A major donor I was working with was curious as to what a search would show about him/her. They could not be found!)
  • Understand what information you need (or want). Remember “need” and “want” are not necessarily the same—this is the key to making this work. Besides the obvious information needed for a major campaign, I encourage smaller nonprofits to begin this process of donor/wealth screening to understand what their donor’s capacity and potential to increase their individual giving is. You may be getting a $500 “major gift” from a donor, but if their capacity and potential is $5,000, you might be missing an opportunity to increase their giving. 

In many cases I have found the smaller nonprofit doesn’t necessarily have a formal development plan. If it does, because of its day-to-day operation and lack of human and financial resources,  the smaller nonprofit  does not necessarily follow the plan as closely as it had expected.

In order to maximize the benefit of utilizing a formal wealth/donor screening program, you might consider the following steps: 

  • If you do not have a development plan, create at a minimum three development goals with measurable results, a realistic timetable and a plan of how the goals will be met. One of these goals should have the building/expanding of a one-to-one solicitation program. I encourage my clients to use the Relationship Based Fundraising Model for this process.
  • Create a committee to oversee the completion of the goals.
  • Commit the needed financial and personnel resources BEFORE you begin this process.

I have found that there are many different ways to create a donor/wealth screening program—I have broken these down into three different categories: 

1. Purchase this service through one of the various wealth screening companies.
a. Pros: Will provide you the most extensive results.
b. Cons: Most expensive in both actual costs and staffing.

2. Compile public information, including what the donor has given to other organizations, property tax records, etc.
a. Pros: Only cost is personnel or volunteer time.
b. Cons: You really need to know where to search, how to search and read in-between the lines. This information is getting harder to obtain. This approach is also the least accurate.

3. Conduct what we call a “Snapshot” Search using your Donor Management System that will allow you to understand your donor’s capacity in order to be able to determine and make the proper ask.
a. Pros:
  i. This will compile the necessary information using WealthEngine and compare it to any two (or more if you want) campaigns you determine.
  ii. You will see the five-year and one-year capacity of the donor and their P2G score as determined by WealthEngine.
  iii. You have the full search information from WealthEngine if you need more extensive information.
  iv. The cost of the search is by the number of names.
b. Cons: Not every Donor Management System can do this.

Success story: "Preparing for WMPG's (Portland Maine's Community Radio Station) on-air fundraising week, I was creating a special fund from which to offer matches to our listeners' donation at certain times during the drive.

We hadn't done individual solicitations in a long time, but we felt that the time was right to do this. By creating a plan for individual solicitations including a basic “snapshot” wealth screening of the potential donors we identified helped me tailor my efforts toward likely and able potential donors, instead of my previous "shooting in the dark" approach.

Almost everyone I called said yes, and almost all of them donated at my requested level. We built our matching fund in advance of the actual public campaign, and were able to offer these incentive funds at strategic times. By doing this extra planning and research it helped us make an effective impact on our fundraising week, and we exceeded our overall goal!"




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