To screen or not to screen, when is the question

Lawrence Henze
Lawrence Henze

Lawrence Henze

[Publisher’s note: This article was provided by Blackbaud, a maker of fundraising software. Blackbaud is a PJ business partner.]

Many nonprofit professionals wonder if their organizations should perform prospect screening.

The truth is, in a perfect world, nonprofits would be performing ongoing screening, since it’s a necessity for promoting greater fundraising success.

But because this isn’t a perfect world, the best plan of attack is to perform prospect screening only when it would be most beneficial and effective.

But how do you determine that? It is a simple question: When is the best time for your organization to conduct a prospect screening project?

Pre-campaign screening

Let’s say you’re in the pre-quiet phase for your next capital campaign.  It is so secret, hush-hush, that only your best donors – and most of your constituents – know that is on the horizon.

Without doubt, the time frame immediately preceding a campaign is an ideal starting point for a major prospect screening effort.

Why? The demands of the forthcoming campaign make it essential for you to analyze the potential existing in your database and it is likely to be the easiest time for you to secure the necessary budgetary funds to underwrite the project.

However, if a primary motivator for the screening is to fill significant holes in the pinnacle of campaign pyramid, that alone should give you pause as to your actual institutional readiness to successfully complete this campaign.

Mid-campaign screening

In my estimation, the best use of pre-campaign screening is to identify emerging mid- to upper-level major and planned giving prospects who will take significant roles in this and future capital campaigns.

First, great successes achieved in the first two years of the campaign have emboldened leadership to consider an updated screening project based on the new major giving profiles produced in the early phases of the campaign.

This is a great use of prospect-screening dollars, as the optimism generated by the campaign success creates a strong willingness to act quickly and directly on the prospects the mid-campaign screening generates.

The second reason is less positive: You have reached the mid-point of the campaign but fear that you have not identified a sufficient number of mid-range prospects to complete the campaign pyramid.

However, a successful prospect-screening project may help turn campaign pessimism into optimism, as it is likely to identify the needed prospects for your success.

The painful reality may be that you may need to extend the time frame of the campaign in order to properly cultivate and solicit these new prospects.

Post-campaign screening

Let’s say that you just completed a successful five-year campaign and it exceeded the goals set for your nonprofit or educational institution.

Your success puts you in the enviable position of now possessing the best, most current data on your donors in the history of your organization.

From the perspective of predictive modeling, this great data is likely to lead to the vast, most insightful profiles available to organization.

“New directions” screening

If the new fundraising initiative is based on an existing program and there have been previous donors to this effort, you may have the necessary data to conduct data-mining or predictive-modeling screening to identify the additional prospects sought.

With no prior giving history, predictive modeling is a moot point, and you may have to rely on traditional hard asset or wealth screening on prospects you believe to have an affinity to this new initiative.

Proactive donor and prospect surveys may also help you identify interest in new initiatives.

In the absence of a perfect world, the answer to the question is most likely to be situational in nature. Just like the results of a data-mining or predictive-modeling project highlight the unique attributes of your constituents and your organization, so should the timing reflect the specific needs of your screening project.

In truth, your organizational circumstances provide the best indications for the appropriate time to screen your database, and prospect screening should be part of a comprehensive long-term plan that addresses the anticipated fundraising activities of your organization.

Annual-giving screening

It does not have the attractive appeal of capital campaign screening, but annual giving screening for the purposes of upgrading, reactivation, and determining solicitation effectiveness and frequency may yield the greatest long-term benefits for your organization.

A healthy, growing annual giving or membership program is the foundation of transitional giving that leads to major and planned giving opportunities.

You may effectively target prospects for increased giving, identify lapsed donors or members for reactivation, and profile prospects least likely to contribute and reduce or eliminate the solicitations directed to these individuals.

Annual giving screening is likely to lead to more yearly gift revenue, increased donor loyalty and lower costs per dollar raised. Sounds great, doesn’t it?

Lawrence Henze is managing director of Target Analytics.

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