At Home in the Annual Fund
C’mon, sing with me now, “Our house. In the middle of the street. Our house . . . ” Or we could have gone with, “Our house is a very, very, very fine house . . . ” This is a multi-sensory blog; great info and musical ear-worms. You’re welcome.
If you don’t know Helen Brown, I’d encourage you to get to know her. Really a leader in the world of Prospect Research, super smart, writes a great blog and a couple of months ago had a mic drop moment with “Why wealth screenings – and prospect researchers – are so reliant on real estate.”
Go read it; I’ll wait.
Right? Wasn’t that good? She’s so on point. My favorite bit:
You may be right, you may be wrong, but at least it’s something to go on in this business where we’re all operating on uncertainty, every single day. We attach ratings to and hang our hopes and our cultivation strategies on people who may or may not support our organizations. It’s a guessing game to which we apply the most solid things we can to a sea of uncertainty.
The rating is a just starting point anyway.
I reached out to Helen and got her blessing to riff on this a little bit. I love prospect research. I think it’s one of the coolest things in our arsenal, but it’s certainly not my forte. Nor is it the end-all, be-all panacea of solving all our fundraising issues. Research and predictive modeling take the guessing game out of the equation and turn a shotgun approach into a laser focus.
The Rating Is Just a Starting Point Anyway
Folks, there’s no certainty in Fundraising. OK, there’s one – nonprofit organizations will always need to do it. Other than that, anything’s possible. Every technique, best practice and sacred cow is just there to help reduce some of the variables.
That’s what prospect research does. Especially in higher-end major gift work.
But we don’t often use it in the Annual Fund, especially in segmentation. Why? Because usually all we have is real estate.
If you’ve done a screening of a whole bunch of names – 300 or 300,000, doesn’t matter – you skim off the top tier, those with the highest ratings. Funnel them into Major Gift portfolios for next steps – identification, cultivation, etc.
SOAPBOX MOMENT: Major Gift folks, please, when you’re done with your identification/qualification process, pretty please release those unqualifieds back into the Annual Fund pool so we can get ’em solicited and not let them stagnate. We all know you can’t manage a portfolio of 500+ prospects, even though you’re a Fundraising Rock Star. #pleaseandthankyou
Typically what you’re left with is a whole mess of mid-range prospects and donors that have one piece of data from public information – real estate. (And then a whole lot more that have no publicly available data at all).
Sometimes Some is Enough
To Helen’s point – it’s something. It’s something we now know about this individual. We have an idea of what they’re like because we know what real estate they’ve purchased.
Does it tell us what to ask them? No.
Does it tell us what their capacity is? No. (Although you can surmise a capacity based on real estate, there’s no way to tell what their debt-to-income ratio is).
Does it give us a clue on response? Possibly.
In a direct response acquisition or renewal campaign, prospects with real estate can out-perform those with no rating at all. Most likely in average gift vs participation. There have been many tests and programs that have shown that those with higher real estate values tend to give a higher level gift than those without it, especially when you’re using an ask string.
Because it’s something. It’s something that says, “Hey, there’s some capacity here.” And sometimes some is enough to make a difference.
As Helen said, “We can use it to form well-educated guesses.”
It’s worth testing. It’s worth the investment of having, and using, that data – at all levels.
It’s worth not dismissing just because “it’s just real estate.” If you’ve got nothing else, it’s at least something to help an educated guess.