Conquering the Prospect Screening Elephant

“Where do I begin?”  This is the question I hear most frequently when presenting prospect screening results.  After explaining what everything means—and usually the good news that hidden potential exists–there is inevitably that heavy sigh and frustrated expression of, “I already have too much to do.  I thought this was supposed to make my job easier!”

My reply is simple:  Screening your database will make your job easier—and save you time and resources.  You just have to know how to get started. Consider the age-old “How do you eat an elephant?” question. The secret lies in doing it one bite, I mean step, at a time.  In other words, implement your results incrementally, not all at once.  This approach will help realize efficiency without straining your staff.

Here is a one idea to consider:

Depending on the complexity of your project, your results may offer results and strategies for all areas of giving: annual, major, and planned.  While it may be tempting to try to address each of these right away, resist the urge and focus on one area at a time.  This will allow you to get the hang of effective segmentation without overhauling your entire program.   One potential goal: recouping your investment, as this will undoubtedly take a large weight off of your shoulders.  One way of doing this effectively and efficiently is to identify a prospect pool for $1,000 upgrades.

Why do I suggest this level first?  I happen to think that $1,000 is somewhat magical in the world of development. While exceptions to this exist, at many organizations this is the point at which donors get “noticed” and placed on someone’s radar.   And, it is also the point at which most donors begin to feel committed to an organization.  In reality, most donors are not going to segue from $250 to $25,000 without first stepping at that $1,000 point.  Call it psychological or figurative, but whatever it is, it is ultimately essential.  So, let’s focus on increasing the number of those donors on your database.

  1. The first step is getting to a manageable pool size. Thousands of upgrade prospects are overwhelming; 250 at a specific level can be do-able.  First, segment using measures of propensity and capacity, then look at those who have made multiple gifts and given you between $200 and $999.  This should whittle the group to a reasonable size, allowing you to review it systematically.
  2. Next, and, perhaps most importantly, massage your “normal” appeal letter to convey a tangible Case for Support.  Identify what that $1,000 gift will fund in meaningful ways so prospects clearly know how their gift will advance your mission.  Then, send a handful–maybe 15 or so–letters at a time, indicating you will be calling to invite their support.  Follow this with a call within two weeks to restate your request and invite the prospect to partner with you at this level.
  3. Finally, track your results.  You might be surprised at what you find.  If 50 prospects in your pool of 250 increase their gift to $1,000, with an average increase of $500 each, you will have raised $25,000!  I would be willing to be bet that this represents a large portion of your original investment—and probably instills some confidence in you and your staff in your ability to act on the results in a methodical and manageable way.  It may only be the first “bite”, but it will undoubtedly be a very important one in getting you on the right path of effectively using your screening results.

I would love to hear how your prospect screening “elephant” is coming along!  Feel free to email me at [email protected].  Good luck!

Laura Worcester is a consultant for Target Analytics. You may reach her at [email protected].