I wanted to discuss in greater detail a “high tech” capital campaign research tool that I have mentioned in some of my prior public presentations, WealthEngine.
You will find several revealing client testimonials and other helpful information, which you can read on the company’s WealthWorks Blog.
As one nonprofit noted,
“When you compare that to direct mail, web maintenance and design, special events and other fundraising costs, prospect research is a small investment that yields greater returns and one that we’ve seen contribute to our fundraising growth …. Overall, our ROI from prospect research these past three years in 2,766%. It may seem like an incredible number, but it’s one that shows the power of prospect research and the true potential that exists when coupled with a well-functioning, aggressive fundraising program” (Houston Grand Opera).
I have personally used WealthEngine in three prior capital campaigns. In each case it took a bit of time to “sell” the idea of investing in this kind of “high tech” research to Board members and campaign leadership. Some were reluctant, as they felt this kind of information-gathering might constitute an invasion of privacy – but the fact is, the information WealthEngine draws upon is all publicly-available. WealthEngine abides by strict ethical guidelines.
In the case of each nonprofit with which I worked, it was eye-opening how WealthEngine showed us that we might have been focusing on the wrong prospects. For instance, those who get a lot of attention in the newspaper may not be your best prospects, nor the most capable, in the end.
It does take time to learn how to “read” the data uncovered, and to research and evaluate each prospect in greater detail. WealthEngine provides the basic data by running your list through their sophisticated system, but then each organization must on its own learn how to use/evaluate the data (Microsoft Access is a software program that can help you there). Be prepared for that, of course.
In the end, WealthEngine’s services turned our major gift campaigns on their heads. For those of us who struggle with “donor burnout,” seemingly no prospects at all (never say never), and a lack of knowledge about the backgrounds and interests of our donors and prospects, this might just be the service for you.
Having said this, nonprofits must be prepared for another possibility. If you have spent a great deal of time nurturing relationships with a select few, it will take time to incorporate your newly-discovered WealthEngine prospects into your “major gift” cultivation plans. Balance your excitement at identifying the new potential donors, with careful consideration as to how you will bring them “up to speed” about your good work.
Be careful not to leap into making a significant request for financial support until the proper groundwork has been laid. As Robert L. Thornton III, an outstanding Dallas volunteer with whom I worked in the 1990s once said, this is when you need to be doing “the slow dance.”
Additional considerations ….
Security is a critical issue when one works with sensitive information such as that provided by WealthEngine. Be careful when you produce print-outs of donor data; don’t leave them lying around, and when you are done using them, be sure to invest in and use a shredder.
For those among us who work with WealthEngine data as consultants, or only for a prescribed time frame, I recommend once your assignment is complete, ask WealthEngine to delete your online account access, and delete the master file completely from your computer.
In truth, after a certain length of time (a year or more, for example), the data culled becomes out of date. This is one reason you may want to consider having your prospect lists run again through WealthEngine after a year has transpired. Regardless, you should protect yourself – as well as the nonprofit and the confidential data you have been privy to – once you are no longer associated with the project for which the data was originally requested. That is my best advice in any case!