Prospect Research: Wealth Screening & Donor Research Best Practices

Prospect Research: How to Qualify a Donor Efficiently

Prospect research has grown wildly over the past five years, with more and more organizations understanding the value of investing in wealth screenings, propensity ratings, and other analytical models. With the abundance of information available, many teams feel like they are wasting time digging for a needle in a haystack. My favorite saying that I use in ImportOmatic lessons holds true for prospect research, too – more information does not always mean better information.

Cutting Through the Noise of Prospect Research

Prospect research works best when it’s structured. It’s easy to go down a rabbit hole, looking up multi-million-dollar property records, combing through lists of gifts to other organizations, and wondering just how confident you can be that this particular person has shares in Apple or Nike. But at the end of the day, what really matters?

It may sound counterintuitive, but when it comes to prospect qualification, focus on quantity over quality. Give yourself a time limit of 15 or 20 minutes per prospect or family, just to make a preliminary assessment. This may seem like an impossible goal, but remember that this is just an initial qualification. You can always circle back and dig deeper later. Here are some tips to make your prospect research more efficient:

Prioritize Wealth Screening

Which wealth screening results are the most telling? Your focus should be in this order:

1. Real Estate

This can be a big time-suck, so straight to the county tax assessor’s database or Pulawski.net.

2. Stock Holdings

This information is great, but only available for insiders in publicly-traded companies. Watch out for false-positives! You can find great info in Yahoo! Finance or the SEC Form 4 filings.

3. Compensation

You’ll most likely find compensation information for publicly traded companies, government employees, state universities, and high-level members of other NPOs (via 990s). Look back over five years. Are they staying steady, getting raises, or losing income?

4. Philanthropy

Don’t nickel and dime here. Look for the biggest gifts, but again be careful to avoid false positive matches.

Trust, but Verify

Run a quick Google search on your prospect, adding in a company or town name to help narrow results. What floats to the top? You may find out that your prospect is an avid golfer, or attended a particular university. Maybe you’ll see their LinkedIn profile, which offers clues to their professional history and network.

Grade

Also referred to as rating prospects, assign them a value. This helps you quickly rank and assign prospects to different development officers. This could be a ranking based on propensity or capacity. A common capacity rating is to take 5% of their identified assets to understand their charitable capacity for a year.

Document

Your work is worth nothing tomorrow if you don’t record it today. Put this information in your CRM, but make sure it is clear that this is a preliminary rating. After all, you’ve only spent a short time qualifying this prospect. Your notes are not to be considered an expert witness.

Prospect research is not a perfect science. There’s no replacing human judgment and personal conversations, but you can use the resources available to make the best use of your time. By defining clear goals for your research, you give yourself not only the opportunity to meet or exceed those goals but also a line in the sand where you know you have to stop and move on to the next person.

The Raiser’s Edge™ is a trademark of Blackbaud, Inc.

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