Speedy Research Verification

1160561_45274657Looking back on 2014 I realize that I’ve done quite a few screenings and research verification projects. And that means I’ve had lots of conversations with fundraisers who ask a lot of the same questions. I thought you might like to eavesdrop on some of those Q&A’s!

Very soon after I get into a conversation with a fundraiser about prospect screenings, this question gets asked in some form or another:

Why should I get the results verified? Does that mean the results aren’t accurate?

Every organization has different needs, but generally speaking, verifying results is necessary for at least three reasons:

  • Lots of people have very common names – this can confound even the most talented prospect research professional and it certainly confuses computer algorithms!
  • Sometimes the data going in is less than perfect, so the data coming out is less than perfect too.
  • Prospect screenings were never intended to be accurate to the last detail. That would be nice, but the primary function is to prioritize a large list of names based on limited pieces of information. Some mismatches and omissions are a necessary result and that’s okay.

Once we start talking about where the data comes from and why there are bound to be some errors and omissions, the next question is this one:

What exactly does “verify” mean? What are you doing when you verify?

Verify means deciding which pieces of information are most important and then checking or verifying those pieces of information. It’s like a quality control check in manufacturing. Instead of each garment getting a sticker that says “Inspector #32”, each name gets a once-over by a prospect research professional.

Following are some illustrations of how this might differ from organization to organization:

  • In a small office with a total of three fundraising staff, the development director might eyeball the top-rated prospects, look up their company bio in Google, and make a phone call for a visit. Batta-Boom-Bang!
  • Another organization might hire an intern to check the top-rated prospects and leave it to the intern to figure out what that means.
  • A solo prospect research professional might select a portion of lesser-known prospects in each capacity or likelihood to give range, verify key items such as real estate, occupation, largest gifts, and volunteer leadership, and make recommendations for discovery call assignments.
  • A prospect research department supporting well-paid, highly-skilled major gift officers might take the top tier of top-rated prospects and go beyond verification to qualify that the prospect does indeed match the vendor’s capacity range and likelihood to give rating. They might then methodically verify and make recommendations, working their way through the tiers of prospects.

Why such variation in approach? Always look for the money! Spend the most time and resources where it will bring in the most gift dollars. Common sense tells us that there should be a different approach for verifying results where the highest gift capacity is $500,000 from verifying results where the highest gift capacity is $100 million.

And then people always want to know:

How long should it take to verify a name?

By now you will probably understand when I say, “It depends”. How long depends on how much you are verifying and at what capacity rating levels. Sometimes there are lots of assets and hundreds of possible gifts – that could take a while. On the other hand, prospects with less capacity can sometimes verify quite quickly.

Take a name or two in each category you plan to verify and time yourself. Now you have a good idea of timing.

Data >> Information >> Insight >> Action

Everyone in the fundraising office needs to know a few things about data these days. We need to turn data into information and information into actionable insight. That requires both fundraising and research knowledge. But you knew that, right? Because you are the future of fundraising!

 

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