All posts by Jennifer Filla

Giving Opportunities

Will a Wealth Screening Really Help Me?

by Julia Bojarcik

Yes! Wealth screenings really can help you raise larger gifts and even identify major and transformative donor prospects. When you are looking to find qualified major gift prospects in your database, want to segment your donor database for targeted asks, or want to realign your fundraisers’ portfolios for optimum performance it can seem daunting — especially if your database has thousands of records. It isn’t a magic bullet, but a wealth screening can take you pretty far, even in this age of A.I.

What is a Wealth Screening?

Wealth screenings provide information about philanthropy and wealth markers that are matched to individuals from public data. When you submit the names, addresses, and any additional data to the wealth screening vendor, the vendor then takes that information and matches it with external data, and creates numerical or alpha ratings for wealth and/or inclination for each record. The ratings can be sorted and segmented, which is useful in developing fundraising strategies.

If your database or CRM has the capability, the ratings can be uploaded to your system for additional segmenting and reporting. Depending on the vendor used, you may receive additional data points such as property values, stock holdings, family foundations, and giving to other charitable organizations.

Why do a wealth screening?

Wealth screenings enable you to look at your donor database in a new light and highlight donor prospects who have the potential to make larger gifts. Below are a few examples:

  • Easily segment donor database by wealth and philanthropy: Donor prospects can be prioritized based on wealth scores, enabling your gift officers to focus their time and energy on those that have potential instead of cultivating prospects with little or no potential or inclination to give to your organization. Conversely, donor prospects with lower wealth scores can be reevaluated for possible removal from portfolios. If you are planning for a capital campaign, a wealth screening can help you build your campaign gift table.
  • Find ‘hidden gems’ in your database: Maybe you have a donor who gives very little or gives sporadically to your organization. That type of donor may not be on your radar. But when a screening indicates that he owns multiple properties in wealthy neighborhoods or runs a multimillion-dollar business, you may just have found a winner!
  • Create tailored lists for your fundraising events or visits: Say for example, you are planning a major fundraising event in Naples, Florida and want to invite your most promising prospects from that area. Where to start? You could pull a list of Naple prospects based solely on giving to your organization. But what about people who made small gifts or haven’t given recently? Should they automatically be discounted? Maybe not! Considering wealth capacity scores along with giving may highlight untapped potential donors in your database, thus creating a stronger invitation list.
  • Create Strategic Direct Mail Appeals: Direct mail appeals are expensive, especially if mailing to your entire database. Plus, the return on investment (ROI) can be low. Screening data can help your organization be more efficient and cost effective by segmenting your database by wealth and inclination. Therefore, instead of mailing to everyone in your database, you can strategically segment your donor database to create targeted appeals. This strategy will reduce the cost of direct mail appeals and increase your ROI.  
  • Opportunities to upgrade donor annual giving: Wealth screening vendors often provide an estimated annual gift range, which indicates the amount a donor is likely to give to your organization in one year. By comparing that data, you can find opportunities to upgrade donors to a higher gift amount through targeted appeals. This strategic approach is another way to reduce costs and increase ROI for direct mail appeals.

Wealth Screening Limitations

Wealth screenings sound like a magic bullet, don’t they? However, like any technology, they have limitations.

  • Garbage in, Garbage out: Screening data is matched to individuals based on the names and addresses from your database. The cleaner your data, the better the results. This is a good incentive to get your data in top notch shape!
  • False Matches: Even with the best data, there may be errors. There is always the possibility of false matches. This is especially true with common names. Say you happen to have two John Smiths who live in the same large city. It is conceivable that the screening could have matched data to the wrong John Smith. Another example along those same lines would be in the case of a father and son who are a Senior and Junior. And if there is a III or a IV, the chances of that happening increase. A good practice is to validate the results, especially in the case of common names.
  • Overestimating Wealth:  Screenings look at visible wealth, such as property values, business ownership and stock holdings, to determine the ratings. But there are some caveats to be aware of. Screenings tend to overestimate the wealth of those in the lower wealth tiers since most of their visible wealth is the value of their home. However, donors are not likely to sell their home to make a major gift.
  • Underestimating Wealth: Conversely, screenings tend to underestimate the wealth of those in the higher wealth tiers since their wealth can be tied to LLCs, trusts, and other non-public assets that cannot be found by screenings. People in the middle wealth tiers can have more visible assets such as multiple properties, insider stock, and evidence of larger gifts. Wealth screenings tend to be the best and most accurate with this group. Something to keep in mind as you review the results.

Since screening results have raw, unverified data, the results can be subject to error. The scores are great for segmentation. However, when looking at individuals the results should be validated for the reasons mentioned above.

It is also important to remember that to make use of all that wonderful data, it must be incorporated into your overall fundraising strategy. Too often organizations let that data sit there unused, due to either staffing or scheduling issues, or they just don’t know what steps to take.  Screenings are an investment in your program. Don’t let that happen!

Beyond the Wealth Screening

Wealth screenings are one piece of the fundraising puzzle. They are a fast and economical way to sort and segment large files. They are a way to prioritize prospects and help create strategic fundraising efforts, thus saving you time, money, and energy.

However, the ratings don’t tell the ‘story.’ This is where Profile Research plays an important role. Prospect Profiles can often uncover the story behind the donor prospect. Was their wealth made or inherited? How do they view philanthropy? What types of organizations do they tend to support? Are they more likely to respond to an emotional need or to a ‘good return of their investment’? These insights paint a more complete picture of the donor prospect which is vital in tailoring a cultivation strategy for a specific prospect.

Wealth screenings are only the beginning of a solid fundraising strategy. Remember that the key to securing very large gifts is building strong relationships with your donor prospects, and that takes time.

Are you considering a wealth screening and wish you had a research partner you could count on? Schedule your free consultation with Aspire today!

3 Tools I Can’t Do Without for Remote Working

By Jen Filla

Right now we are all grappling with a pandemic and those of us who can are working from home. You might be a pro at remote work, or you might be struggling to create a new work routine at home, or worried about how to best manage remote workers.

In this post I wanted to share with you the top three tools that form the foundation for the remote work lifestyle that I’ve been living for more than 12 years now, from many different places around the globe. Because frustrating stuff happens!

  • Arrive at my Airbnb to discover the internet is OUT and I have to visit the local café?
  • Computer DIES the day before a deadline and I have to work at the library’s computer?

I could go on, but I think you probably get the picture. Travel has dropped me suddenly into situations where getting the work done was challenging. Below are three tools I rely upon the most to keep me sane and focused no matter what.

I’m in love with this platform because it organizes everything in my life. I love this tool so much I have five active pages! One of those pages I use every single day. It acts as my digital control panel.

Here are a few reasons why this tool ranks #1:

  • Widgets. It employs easy to use widgets that I can mix and match across multiple “file folder tabs.” The two most-used for me are hyperlink bookmarks and RSS feeds, but you can choose from a long list including sticky notes, clocks, video embeds, and more.
  • Software Explosion. Instead of being crushed by the amazing number of software programs I need to navigate daily (research tools, website logins, malware, accounting tools, multiple email accounts, timekeeper tool, etc.) and then those programs that I use infrequently and am always forgetting, and then all my favorite online reading, and, well, it goes on and on! Now they are neatly organized, named and linked inside click and drag boxes.
  • In the Cloud. Once you build a Protopage you can access it anywhere in the world. And so can the whole team. When you are under pressure, you only need to remember one website to access all of your key programs and points of information.
  • Locked. Or Not. Pages can be password protected, sub-pages can be locked, or the whole thing can be public. That’s versatility!
  • Free. Can you believe that all of this intense functionality is free? It is! There are some ads at the top, which you can have removed for a small fee.

Check out these two public pages:

Have you ever counted how many passwords you have? Do you know how many passwords you have that are the same? In fundraising we handle lots of sensitive data. Passwords matter. And when you need to access multiple accounts with urgency, access across devices helps. A LOT.

My husband and I had a 24-hour layover in Amsterdam one year. We decided to make the most of it and sightsee and rent a hotel room. We showed up at the airport early the next day, but they wouldn’t let us through the gate! Turns out the flight had gotten changed and we failed to recognize the implications. It was the left hand not knowing what the right hand did.

Using my password manager and the airport Wi-Fi, I was able to login to my airline rewards account, my email, and skype, to quickly re-book us on the next available flight. This was before smart phones were quite so smart.

Now that Aspire’s team is growing, we upgraded to the enterprise version of Lastpass. That means we can share passwords with each other with various security levels. And team members can control their own personal passwords, because it is all about shoring up the weakest link!

There are other benefits too, such as:

  • Strong password creation
  • Manage tasks, such as eliminating duplicate passwords (talk about weak links!)
  • Add payment (and other) information for auto-fill (shopping was never so easy)
  • Create secure notes (like my backup laptop’s password because I WILL forget)
  • End-to-end encryption, which means I had better type my Lastpass password every day because if I forget it, there is little hope of recovering my account (yikes!)

There are many good choices for password managers. Check out PC Magazine’s picks for the best programs:

There are many good cloud storage solutions, but I migrated to Dropbox a few years ago when it enabled a feature that allows clients to securely upload files without having a Dropbox account. In addition to that feature, here’s why I couldn’t do without it:

  • Internet AND Desktop Access. Yes, the Aspire team needs access anywhere, but for keeping data secure, all of us use the desktop feature. Our Dropbox folders are accessed like any other folder on our computer. This means files don’t stray onto hard drives or anywhere else that they might become vulnerable.
  • Security. All kinds of things happen. Client’s employees move on. Aspire sometimes uses contractors. When it’s time to take back control of the files, it can be done, and files saved remotely on someone’s laptop can be wiped.
  • Non-Internet Access. I love traveling and having desktop access to my files as a passenger in the car or on the airplane is bliss. Talk about being productive without distractions! The next time I connect to Wi-Fi, the files get synced.
  • Revision History. Who hasn’t hit the delete button by mistake? Or saved over an important file? And yes, there is a way to permanently delete all versions to comply with your data privacy and confidentiality requirements.

Your organization likely already has a way to share files in the cloud. Now is a good time to take the time to better understand how the tool can meet your changing needs and ensure the rest of the team is aware of expectations around how they use the tool from home.

Under the Tip of the Iceberg

Are you surprised that I haven’t mentioned Zoom online meeting software? Or Slack, a team communication program? Paring down to the top three wasn’t easy.

There are so many great tools out there! And even more great articles and link collections. Maybe the most important skill to be acquired in this digital age is focusing and filtering all that information. Curate your own favorites… maybe even on Protopage!

Below are a few additional resources if you want to keep going:

  • Work at Home Tips Podcast. The Scrivener Solutions team is a fount of software selection and organizational efficiency. In this podcast, they share tips from the employee and employer perspectives. Hints for a Successful Remote Work Transition
  • Your Virtual Image: When I was in Amsterdam, I did a session with an image consultant, Tammy Parrish, which was SUPER helpful. I met her because she had been a fundraiser in the U.S. You can tap her wisdom online for free! Three Tips to Improve Your Image on Video Calls
  • How to Work from Home Like a Pro | UMAMI Girl | This a wonderfully comprehensive and pragmatic guide to working from home – and a good read, too! How to Work from Home like a Pro

The Results are in! Common Wealth Screening Questions

By Elisa Shoenberger

Presenting screening data to development officers and Vice Presidents can be both thrilling and terrifying. As a prospect researcher, it’s exciting because a screening can turn up all sorts of new prospects for the organization. But it’s terrifying since you’ll have to present it to a room of people who you have to convince to take the next steps.

To help gift officers and vice presidents who are facing screening data for the first time, here’s a few common questions about screenings. We’ve provided answers to help explain the answer to the question and the reasoning behind it.

Are these ratings all based on real estate?

Both researchers and gift officers all know that real estate is a tricky proposition for identifying wealth. We all have heard the story of the teacher with a modest home who ends up leaving a $1M+ bequest to his or her alma mater or the prospect with $1M home who thinks $100 donation is a bit much. We all take real estate with a grain of salt.

However, when doing research, real estate is often the only identifiable asset that can be found on prospects. It’s a good starting place and can be indicative in other ways, such as if a prospect owns more than two homes, or a $26M dollar house comes up.

With respect to wealth screenings, most third party vendors will use real estate as a factor in the screening, but not the sole factor. Many screenings will factor in philanthropy and political giving into their rating for this reason. Ask the researcher about the third party’s system of rating prospects in the screening.

Why doesn’t our major donor come up as wealthy?

Researchers get so excited about all these new prospects and don’t understand why a development officer may be stuck on a known entity. “We know their wealthy, so what?” a researcher may think.

Gift officers, on the other hand, may not have spent as much time around screening results and may not have as much faith in these wealth screenings. Understanding what data is found on a known entity is a way of judging how good the screening is about finding information. If data is missing, it can be troubling.

Unfortunately, this often does happen. It’s important to realize that no screening algorithm is fool proof. Most institutions only have names, addresses, sometimes spouses and birthdates. The system is matching names and doing the best it can but unusual data can trip it up, such as people who go by a middle name, or properties held in a company name.

What do we do with all this information?

There’s lots of data to go through when you receive a wealth screening back. So it’s natural to ask “what’s next?”

The biggest thing is that the data should be verified, if possible. While it’s great that we have all this raw data, it’s necessary for a researcher to go through and make sure the Jane Doe in Houston, Texas is the same Jane Doe in your database. Sometimes you’ll find that the prospect who looked promising was a red herring while other people may have even more philanthropic giving than the system picked up on. Researchers provide the necessary human touch.

However, it’s unlikely that any research team is going to review every screening profile (and that’s likely not a great use of researcher time), so a plan needs put in place to screen the best prospects. Research teams should be prepared to answer this question with a plan to look at XYZ number of top prospects (maybe those rated at $100K+ or $1M+ depending on your organization’s prospect pool). That way you can understand when you might get to see the verified prospects and other data.

Moreover, there should be a plan to get those new leads into gift officer portfolios. There’s a lot of ways research and prospect management can do it. They might give you a list of prospects that they recommend or some shops automatically assign. It’s good to work out a plan with research/prospect management to figure out the best strategy for your organization.

Can I just go out and contact leads without the data being verified?

It’s true that it’s going to take some time for research to review results, especially if there are competing priorities (other research requests and whatnot). So gift officers could potentially reach out to new leads. However, the data may not be as robust as they are used to. There may be some names that get mixed up with one another, especially if they are very common names. So as long as the gift officer understands they are working with imperfect data, it’s probably okay. But it should be worked out with the researchers and other stakeholders.

These are just a few common questions that arise when presenting a screening. What questions have you faced in your work?

Additional Resources:

Discover Gift Opportunities in the New Tax Law with Prospect Research

Identify new donor opportunities and forecast potential losses

Webinar | $75

Information on the new tax law has flooded the internet, including a lot of doom and gloom forecasting of plunges in giving. Are you still left wondering what that means for your nonprofit and how your unique constituency might behave?

This webinar introduces some fresh thinking on the new tax law from a prospect research point a view. We summarize the key points of the tax law as they apply to philanthropy, both positive and negative. Then we walk you through step-by-step on how you can make reasonable assumptions and forecast the possible negative and positive impacts on your organization’s donors.

With all of the information out there, by now you likely understand the key provisions in the new tax law. You just need a creative and methodical approach to apply that information to your unique constituency so that you can make data-based decisions right now about exactly what donor messaging tactics to implement before the end of the year.

Fear not! This is not a webinar about complex statistical modeling techniques or complicated mathematical formulas. This webinar is about making reasonable assumptions and applying them in simple calculations to identify the likely risk and opportunity segments in your donor base. Any fundraising professional can master this approach.

You Will Learn

As a result of this webinar you will…

  • Understand the key tax provisions that affect your constituency’s wealth and philanthropy.
  • Determine reasonable assumptions to use in risk and opportunity formulas and apply these to your donor base to identify your organization’s risk and opportunity segments.
  • Quickly assess some of the risks and opportunities your major gift prospects may be facing on a case-by-case basis.
  • Recognize and understand some tactics donors can use to maintain or increase their giving.

Your presenter is a prospect research professional with experience turning data into action. Please note that she will NOT be covering fundraising messaging, techniques for discussing the tax implications with donors, or the exact mechanics of the tax law. This webinar is for professionals looking to evaluate the risks and opportunities in their constituencies and for a clear summary of information relevant to fundraising practices.

You Will Also Receive

  • A prospect research tax implications “cheat sheet” to quickly evaluate the impact of the new tax law as you review your major gift prospects’ information.
  • An info-graphic-style reference depicting the risk and opportunity segments and the associated formulas.
  • A list of the best tax-related resources for nonprofit and higher education professionals.

About the Presenter

A resourceful fundraiser with an innovative focus on prospect research, Jen Filla is a researcher, consultant, author, speaker and trainer. Her mission is to perform research with distinction and to provide other fundraising professionals with the power to perform their work with excellence, lead with research, and make a difference!

Deeply committed to advancing philanthropy and the fundraising profession, Filla is co-author of Prospect Research for Fundraisers: The Essential Handbook, part of the Wiley/AFP Fund Development Series. She has also served as a volunteer and trustee for numerous organizations over the years including The Center Foundation and Habitat for Humanity of Delaware County. Currently she serves on the board of the Nonprofit Consultants Connection in Tampa, Florida.

Filla is a member of the Association of Professional Researchers for Advancement (Apra), the Council for Advancement and Support of Education (CASE), and the Association of Fundraising Professionals (AFP). She received a B.S. from Neumann University.

$75 US Dollars


Questions? Email the presenter at or call 727 202 3405

2016 US Trust Study of High Net Worth Philanthropy

A High Net Worth Individual (HNWI) typically holds $1 million in liquid financial assets.

By Erica Sauer

The 2016 US Trust Study of High Net Worth Philanthropy examined charitable practices and preferences of wealthy households. The top perceived challenges for HNWI donors included “identifying what they cared about and deciding where to donate” (67.3%) and “understanding how much they can afford to give” (49.8%).

Top Takeaways

  1. Focusing on your prospect’s passions early in cultivation will help you identify good matches to your organization’s unique giving opportunities and develop the trust and engagement needed to make a major gift. For great ideas on how to ask the right questions to uncover your prospect’s passions, consider reading Power Questions: Build Relationships, Win New Business, and Influence Others by Andrew Sobel and Jerold Panas.
  2. Share your organization’s evidence of effectiveness, cost-effectiveness, transparency and room for more funding. GiveWell, a nonprofit that identifies giving opportunities, uses these criteria.
  3. A prospect may not know how much they can afford to donate. Present multiple funding options at your organization. Use prospect research to settle on an Ask Amount and consider the prospect’s capacity rating, philanthropic inclination and affinity.