doing a wealth screen

At some point or another you’ve probably heard about doing a wealth screen on prospective donors or existing donors. You may have been especially keen yourself to take advantage of a screen to find out more about your prospects’ and donors’ capacity to give to you, and reveal those gems hiding in plain sight.  

But if you are like a lot of nonprofit professionals, somewhere along the way a board may have rained on your wealth screening parade. They may have had a lot of trepidation and indicated that this kind of a service was sneaky, underhanded, or violated people’s privacy. Before you knew it, the “ick” factor had set in and suddenly you felt like people thought doing a screen was creepy.

I’m here to set the record straight.  

Since when is wanting to know more about your prospects and donors a bad thing? Spending your financial resources wisely to raise more for your cause is an admirable goal. Let’s look at the facts.

Where do wealth screens get information?

Companies aggregate consumer data from many sources that are public records including the IRS, marriage records, birth/death records, property records, taxes, consumer behavior, political contributions, real estate holdings, government data, survey data, etc.  

Whether the customer is a for-profit or nonprofit (hey, that’s you!) they have the same goal – efficiently finding their best prospects so that they can spend less time (and money) pursuing people who are not good prospects. 

Just like corporations buy marketing data to target their products to consumers, this data is also available to nonprofits to reach potential donors.  

Of course, much of this data can be discovered online for free with research. But there are also vendors in the space, like DonorSearch for example, who use this data as well as public giving data from annual reports, newsletters, campaign honor rolls, press releases, and more to do what is called a “wealth overlay” or wealth screen.  This can better inform a charity of their current donors’ capacity or even give them insight, through modeling, on prospective donors they want to target.  

Can’t I figure this stuff all out by myself online?

Nothing is stopping you from doing this research yourself. However, your time is not free. Not only are you paid a salary but there’s the opportunity cost of what putting your time into donor research is taking away from other money-raising activities.  

Do donors opt out of giving if they learn an organization is using such a tool in development?

I have never heard of a donor opting out of donating because an organization did prospect research.

Frankly, there is no logical reason to inform donors that you are doing prospect research.  

By the same token, I see no reason to inform your board you are doing prospect research. You, as the CEO or fundraiser, have a fundraising budget to spend as you see fit to meet your objectives. If doing a wealth screen allows you to achieve your objectives and is within your budget, you do not need board approval to do it.  

Does it really help you to know more about your donors or change how you approach a donor? 

I would argue that leadership wants and needs thorough, accurate information to minimize risk/maximize opportunity. Doing a wealth screen is an extremely efficient way to zero in on your top giving prospects. It can help you reveal major gif and planned gift prospects. It can help you with knowing how much the right amount is to ask for. Potentially it could even assist you with when you want to make your ask or what fundraising goals you want to set. 

What are the ethics of using this information? 

All of this data is public information. In case you want a refresh, here is the AFP (Association of Fundraising Professionals) code of ethics.

My advice?

“Let the fundraisers fundraise!”  

While the data you will reveal from doing a wealth screen is only as good as the data you put in, it can provide valuable insights to reveal your top gift prospects. You might reveal new prospects you didn’t have on your radar as a current donor.  

best donor prospects

Rachel Muir
Rachel Muir, CFRE transforms individuals into confident, successful fundraisers. When she was 26 years old, Rachel Muir launched Girlstart, a non-profit organization to empower girls in math, science, engineering and technology in the living room of her apartment with $500 and a credit card. Several years later she had raised over 10 million dollars and was featured on Oprah, CNN, and the Today show.
Rachel Muir