Peer Screening 201

Recently I offered reasons as to why Peer Screening—the use of volunteers to evaluate a list of their peers’ donor potential—could benefit your organization.  To follow up, I wanted to share a few insights into ways to do this effectively.  Just like virtually every other tool, there is no absolute “right” way—other development professionals may offer different suggestions–but here are a few ideas.

PREPARATION:  Effective peer screening takes planning and preparation. Here are some pointers:

1. Keep the list concise.  I recommend a list of 200 names or less.  Screeners won’t know everyone on the list, but you want them to feel they have time to comment on those they do.   Depending on your setting (I recommend informal with refreshments and a casual tone), your screening event should not exceed an hour or so.  A massive list can feel overwhelming.  Respect your screeners’ time and recognize that there is a limit to what can be accomplished at one sitting. 

2. Make the format easy to use.  I like a spiral bound, landscape style booklet with about 6-8 names per page.  There should be “ratings” (see #3 below) and room for comments. 

3. Make sure your format elicits and “captures” the information you are looking for.  This may include the following;

  • A scale of how well the screener knows the prospect (1 = not at all; 5 = very well/close friend)
  • A scale of what prospect’s potential giving capacity (customize for your organization)
  • Suggestions of funding priorities based on the prospect’s interests
  • What role the screener may be able to play in the process (open door, solicit, etc.)
  • As noted above, a box for other comments.

4. Provide clear directions. Consider an “instructions” sheet on the inside cover of the booklet that reiterates the directions orally provided.  This should clarify ratings, info you are interested in gathering, and gentle reminders that this process is one more step in your organization’s efforts to enhance its fundraising process.  Depending on whether your screeners have participated in a process like this before, they may have varying degrees of comfort with peer screening.  Your reassuring comments will help maximize the effectiveness of the session.

5. A final note on preparation—Make sure the screeners are aware that this will be occurring.   By this I mean that screeners should be specifically invited to a screening session, with advance information about the event’s goals and objectives. Some individuals are simply not going to be comfortable with participating, so it should never be a surprise! 

PEOPLE:  Having the “right” people—both on the list and participating in the screening process—will play a critical role in the success of your endeavors.  Again, depending on the type of organization, you may have “natural” constituents, such as alumni or parents, or you may be looking more at influential and engaged community members.   Consider the following when constructing the list and selecting your screeners:

  1. Remember, this is “peer” screening.  There should be a reasonable possibility that screeners and prospects know one another.  For example, alumni are more apt to know other alumni, parents know other parents, influential people know other influential people.  There will, of course, be some overlap among these, but do consider the likelihood that the screeners will know those on the list.
  2. Other considerations should include geography, class year, profession, etc.  For educational institutions, screening sessions can sometimes be schedule in tandem with other alumni events and/or reunions since they tend to attract individuals with similarities. 
  3. Construct a list inclusive of people you already know something about, as well as some that are virtual unknowns.  The “known” prospects will help you determine the validity of your responses and serve as a “control” of sorts.

FOLLOW UP:  Peer screening is a time consuming endeavor.  Make sure your research team, or those evaluating prospects, are prepared to manage the results.  Some considerations include the following:

  1. Tabulation:  Another reason for a well designed form is to facilitate summarizing the responses.  “Scaled” results for each prospect should be tabulated; comments should be added to research notes.
  2. Next research steps:  were results what you expected?  Better?  Be sure to take the appropriate next steps for further research or communication with appropriate prospect manager.
  3. Follow up and Evaluation:  Let your screeners know how helpful the event was—how many new prospects were identified, how much additional donor potential was uncovered.  Volunteers always need to know that their time was well spent.  Also, be sure to have an internal evaluation process in place so your next peer screening event will be even better.

Whether you are new to peer screening or looking to make an existing process even better, best of luck in your endeavors.  As always, I would love to hear of your successes.  Feel free to email me at [email protected]

Laura Worcester is a consultan for Target Analytics.