researchWealth screening. Data mining. Donor research.  Whatever you call it, I am well aware of the differing opinions among some nonprofit organizations and even some fundraising professionals on the place and use of this service in fundraising.  I have worked with organizations that see acquiring public data regarding its donors and prospects as an intrusion of privacy.  Then there are those that use it as a “silver bullet” that will magically return a number that if only asked for, the donor will be powerless to resist. Both of these attitudes ignore the real value of this service and information as one ADDITIONAL, but very important and useful, tool in better understanding a donor’s capacity, inclination, and interest in supporting your mission at the highest level of ability. The well-researched and well-organized information returned by these services is particularly essential in an organization where there is very little overlapping knowledge and interaction with donors, and in very diverse and widely dispersed constituencies.

I recently asked a donor who had given a very generous seven-figure gift to a client of mine how he felt about knowing that the organization uses data mining to help develop the right approach with its major donors. He said that he would not respect, nor take seriously an organization that did not do their homework on him before asking. This is, of course, only one instance but highlights the appropriate understanding of this type of information. You can, however, get into trouble using this information incorrectly or  misunderstanding it.

The classic mistakes I see include:

  1. Garbage-in, Garbage-out: You must supply good and valid information to the research company for best and most accurate matches. This data should include full name, including middle name or initial, home address, spouse and other specifically identifying information to eliminate bad and inaccurate data.
  2. Incorrect prioritization of information: Wealth screening cannot, and should not EVER replace historical giving records, institutional knowledge, and personal anecdotal information gained from others who know the individual donors well. The donor research data is intended to supplement existing knowledge and assist in providing focus to help use your resources wisely.
  3. Misuse of the data: It is critical to understand the data and how to use it. Take the training. Understand the information presented. Factor the information into your other data. Use personal experience. And never, ever, simply take the “suggested amount” and proceed immediately to the ask.
  4. Replacing relationships with research: There is no substitute for developing a personal relationship with the donor. No amount of research or information, no matter how impressive the report, can replace the hard and rewarding work of understanding the passions and interests of an individual.

I am a believer and an advocate of using services such as WealthEngine to help with identification, segmentation, validation and information to help connect donors with an organizations’ mission. However, I take the words of two wise men together to guide my counsel in using this tool. Benjamin Franklin said “An investment in knowledge pays the best dividend,” but Albert Einstein cautions “Information is not knowledge.” Invest in good information related to your donors. Do your homework; but don’t rely solely on raw data. Fundraising is still about people.

The Fundraising Resource Group helps non-profit organizations across the United States with fundraising feasibility studies, capital campaigns, annual giving campaigns, major gift fundraising, non-profit marketing, fundraising training, and other high-impact, high-return fundraising activities. For more about how we can help your non-profit achieve fundraising success, visit our website at or call 888-522-1492.

Tags: , ,