When advancement leaders consider conducting current donor and prospective donor research, two primary methodologies come to mind.
First, an electronic wealth screen is the choice most advancement leaders make when attempting to find currently unknown (to them) prospective major donors. A wealth screen uses publicly available databases and information to provide a rating of an individual’s potential financial capacity. Wealth screenings utilize information such as real estate ownership, stock ownership, corporate leadership roles or business affiliations, political contributions, and net worth projections to provide a picture of the financial circumstances of a potential donor.
Second, database analytics are used to identify individuals currently known to the institution who “fit the profile” of those who have made major gifts to the institution in the past. To utilize this tool, a first step is to build a profile of current major donors to the institution. What, for instance, are the typical giving patterns and other engagement behaviors of these major donors? A second step is to identify who fits that curated profile today but, as of yet, hasn’t made a major gift. To conduct helpful database analyses, variables such as past giving amounts, frequency and recency of giving, email open rates, event attendance, board or advisory council volunteer service, and other signals of engagement are assessed.
Both wealth screens and database analytic techniques are helpful tools when looking to better understand who could be a major or planned giving donor in the future. Both are driven by data and behavior. Both result in quantitative scores that make ranking and organizing prospects easier.
However, neither wealth screens nor database analyses provide the rich, comprehensive, and thorough understanding of donors and potential donors the way peer screens can.
Peer screens – that “old school” methodology that uses human intelligence – doesn’t aim to reduce prospective donors to a score. Instead, peer screens aim to provide a robust, qualitative understanding of your donors and donor prospects with information that is only known to friends, colleagues, associates, and family.
Conducting peer screens is a 5-step process.
- Create a list of who you would like to screen. Typically, this list would include current donors or prospective donors with whom your institution desires to have a closer relationship.
- Assess each donor and prospective donor on your list and identify what aspects of their lives you would like to better understand or what information you would like to collect.
- Identify and invite volunteers, close current donors, staff members, or others who know one or more of the prospects on your list. The “peer screeners” should be people with whom your institution has a strong relationship and people who are willing to share their perspectives confidentially and candidly with you.
- Conduct the peer screening session. While peer screening sessions can be conducted in both group and one-on-one settings, the one-on-one approach typically elicits data and information more easily and efficiently. One-on-one peer screening sessions should be conducted either in-person or via video meeting so that you can probe responses to your questions and gather important nonverbal cues.
- Report back to the peer screener. One outcome of a peer screen is that an engagement “next step” is identified for the donor or prospective donor. Communicating to the peer screener the results of your engagement strategy helps them better understand the value of their involvement in the process.
If you want to engage others meaningfully in the advancement process, gain deeper, more nuanced understandings of current and prospective donors, and generate thoughtful and helpful action plans for those donors and prospects, conducting peer screening sessions is a great choice.
The old fundraising saw states that, “people give to people.”
We believe there is an analogous statement for donor research: “people know people.”
Gathering up the insights, perspectives, hints, knowledge, and human intelligence that only peer screenings can provide is not simply helpful donor research, it’s also very good advancement work.
This article was originally posted in our October 2023 E-Bulletin on Advancement.