Tag Archives: income

Beware The Self-Serving “Objective” Report

Photo Courtesy of freeaussiestock.com
These things are in every profession, not at all unique to nonprofit fundraising. The seemingly objective research or report or white paper that advocates a course of action. You’ve got to ask who wrote it and what they have to gain if you adopt their suggestions.

The most recent that I’ve seen is from WealthEngine, which makes money when nonprofits (and companies) hire them to do prospect screenings. In simple terms, that’s a comparison of your constituents with a company’s proprietary database that measures wealth and income. You use the result to determine who your best fundraising prospects are for different types and amounts of gifts.

Prospect screening is part of prospect research, work that I very much respect and have written about.

WealthEngine emailed me a press release announcing their report on best practices in arts and culture fundraising. It suggests those institutions should devote at least 25% of staff time to prospect research. Here’s a quote from the press release:

Unlike hospitals’ grateful patient programs and universities’ alumni and parent screening processes, many arts organizations seem to overlook the value of systematic prospect research, relying instead upon less consistent means to fundraising like tapping board members or others closely associated with their mission. In fact, two-thirds of the survey respondents indicated that less than 25% of staff time is spent on prospect research.

That 25% figure really bothers me. These are the hardest hit nonprofits in the recession, and the most struggling even in good times. To suggest they should be spending 25% of their staff time on prospect research is to dangle a carrot they cannot reach. The biggest institutions like major dance and opera companies and world-class museums? Frankly, it’s a stretch for them, too. But they’re outliers in the arts and culture space. In the arts, the vast majority are small companies struggling to keep the lights on, get the next show up, meet salary and keep the theater rent paid.

It’s cruel to prompt a resource allocation that’s grossly unattainable to most of the sector.

I see its purpose as selling their wealth screening service. The more time a charity devotes to prospect research, the more likely it is to buy a wealth screening. Both are valuable enterprises. And there are precious few nonprofits of any size that can devote “25% of staff time” to these activities. There’s a good reason that two-thirds of the survey respondents spend less than that on prospect research. That’s all they can afford and that’s all these worthwhile allocations deserve.

I have not read the report. The press release was sufficiently annoying. I tried to get a copy, but I object to the demand for far too much information. To download a report like this, I think the publisher is entitled to name and email. WealthEngine wants address, phone number and annual contribution level. All are required fields on a non-secure site. But that’s an aside.

Know who writes these advocacy research reports and think about why.