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?

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