Screening Sessions for Major Donors
Many times in smaller organizations, executive directors and development directors will bemoan the fact that they don’t have the “movers and shakers” on their board and, therefore, won’t consider a major-gifts program or capital campaign that relies heavily on leadership-level gifts.
Before writing off your board, consider doing some brainstorming on major-donor prospects. You might be surprised at the connections your board has in this regard.
Brainstorming is best done in the form of a screening and rating session. There are basically three ways to conduct screening for major-donor prospects. For all three methods, the screening committee could include:
* board members
* development committee members
* members of a leadership-gifts committee
* organization volunteers with broad community connections.
It is crucial to start with a preliminary list. It’s often hard to get a brainstorming session started with a blank slate. Prepare a list of the top 10 percent of donors to your organization or other prospects that you feel might have the potential to make a major gift. List the giving history of these people, with their largest gift and most recent gift. Provide a column for each of the key ingredients: linkages, ability and interest. Be sure to mark the sheets “highly confidential.” And, of course, if gifts have been made anonymously, do not list them.
Now, the three methods:
1. The open screening session. Invite the group to assemble in a quiet room and open the discussion with a brief explanation of the process, its importance to the organization and why they were selected to help with this task. Then distribute the lists and discuss each name, attempting to determine the best linkage -- who knows this person best or would be the best person to make the “ask”?
Often there will be several linkages, and the task of this group is to determine the best solicitation team.
Next, try to determine ability -- what could this person give to the organization if so motivated? Without revealing confidential information, the screening committee members can “guestimate” the person’s net worth and/or income.
Then try to determine interest. Does this person have knowledge of your organization? Is this a cause he’s known to support? Is there a specific program that would interest him?
As each name is discussed, complete the form with the linkages, ability and interest named. The advantage of this method is that there is discussion and consensus; the disadvantage is that some people feel uncomfortable discussing prospects.
2. The closed screening session. This method is very similar to the first, except that instead of discussing each prospect among the group, participants in the session are asked to complete the answers to the linkage, abillity and interest sections to the best of their own knowledge. Each person works independently without discussion among the group.
Lists are then collected, and the person in charge reviews the lists and determines the consensus of opinion. The advantage of this method is that people often feel freer to comment on prospects if they’re doing it confidentiallly; the disadvantage is that once the lists are collected, there is a lot of gueework and perhaps follow-up to clarify what a screener has written. Without the open discussion, it’s sometimes difficult to figure out why one person thought a prospect had the ability to give $1 million and another suggested $10,000.
3. The private screening session. This method is similar to the first, except that it is held one on one with a staff member and a screening committee member. The list is reviewed with screening committee members one at a time in the privacy of their offices or homes.
It’s easier to schedule people at their convenience than to get them all together in one room. The open discussion takes place between the staff and the screening committee member. The disadvantages are that it takes a lot more staff time to meet with screening committee members individually and, again, the lack of open discussion could mean follow-up to clarify major differences of opinion.
In all three methods, you will want to make sure to encourage screeners to add their own names to the list. Often seeing the list will jog people to think of other potential donors for your organization.
Whichever method you use, you most likely will uncover some hidden “stars” among your current donors and new prospects along the way.
Lysakowski, ACFRE, is president and CEO of Capital Venture, a full-service consulting firm based in Las Vegas, Nev. For more information, visit http://www.cvfundraising.com.