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By chris

This blog focuses on the world of prospect research and various related fundraising topics. To diversify our subject matter, we like to feature the work of our friends and colleagues in the community. Join me in welcoming Susie Hills of Graham-Pelton and please enjoy her post on wealth screening.


I recently asked someone who was leading a charity whether they had wealth screened their database. They responded with discomfort and said, “Isn’t it rather distasteful to find out how rich someone is?” Their view was that we should treat everyone in the same way, and those who are richer will automatically give more. I couldn’t have disagreed more strongly.

We spend years recruiting supporters, volunteers, and donors. We keep their records on our databases, and we use that data in more or less sophisticated ways depending on the resources and skills we have in our organisations.

Whatever form our data is in, it represents a bank of time, energy, investment, and commitment from our side and from those whose names we keep. It may be a ‘mass’ of data but each record represents a personal relationship with our cause.

It still surprises me that a charity I worked for and gave to for years and persuaded my friends and family to support never realised the depth of my loyalty to them and the complexity of my relationship with them.

When I finally stopped giving to them (due to the two-dimensional transactional nature of their communications) they never really contacted me in a personal way to explore why – I was not an individual supporter rather a name on a list, part of normal donor attrition. I would have been a lifelong donor and a legacy pledger had they simply kept great records on my relationship with them and tailored their approaches to me.

We owe it to ourselves, our donors, our volunteers and our beneficiaries to use our data in really smart ways? To be highly efficient, effective, personal and responsive in our fundraising? This is what is expected of us.

The people whose names inhabit our databases – people like us – are used to being communicated with in very sophisticated, tailored ways.

When we go online, the ad that appears is for a retailer we bought from last week. When we visit a website, the content is tailored to the clicks we made yesterday. Our supermarket sends us vouchers for things we regularly buy or might want to buy based on what they know about us.  We can even tailor our news feed to give us the news we want and are interested in.

Our world is becoming increasingly a highly bespoke world and this makes us increasingly intolerant of ‘cold calls’ and ‘blanket mailings’. In fact when it comes to charities approaching us in these ways, some of us are becoming infuriated and some parts of the media are stoking this fury.

I am sure all fundraisers would agree that we should use our data to tailor our approaches so that they most closely match the interests and wishes of our supporters. Surely, we should similarly design asks that also match their ability to give.

When we wealth screen our databases, we are simply accessing publicly held information on an individual’s wealth, roles, and interests.

Isn’t it only responsible and thoughtful to know if one of our supporters has given a big donation to a similar cause?  Or to be aware they are a trustee of a grant making trust you are applying to? Wouldn’t a very wealthy supporter prefer that you approached them personally for a meaningful and impactful major gift, rather than send them a letter asking for £50 or £100 a few times a year?

If we want to build long-term, meaningful relationships with our supporters then knowledge of their philanthropic interests and ability to give is vital.

It is not distasteful; it is professional, thoughtful, and responsive. In fact, isn’t it distasteful for a charity to be inefficient and not use the resources at their disposal to maximise their impact?  Isn’t the frustration we hear about based on mass mailings and ‘cold’ approaches, not highly tailored well researched approaches thoughtfully made to an individual rather than a name on a list?

Now is the time to invest in research and data quality – be sure you know those whose names inhabit your database better than you have ever known them before.  

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Susie Hills is the Managing Director of Graham-Pelton. She has fundraising and consulting experience in the education, arts, and community sectors. Susie’s expertise includes alumni relations, event management, volunteer management, marketing communications, grant and proposal writing, and annual giving. 

[Guest Post] Isn’t it all a bit distasteful?