I love the digital age and all it offers fundraisers today — and what it will increasingly offer in the future.

I’m also aware that too many folks avoid undertaking basic fundraising tasks in hopes that some ‘magic app’ will appear that can deliver instant results inexpensively with the click of a mouse. Not gonna happen.

I served my fundraising apprenticeship in the late ‘50s and early ’60s in what was basically a computerless, faxless, and smartphone-free world. Back then ‘digital’ was the act of using your fingers to dial the telephone or type a letter and stick a stamp on the envelope.

In the absence of digital technology and readily accessible data we used methods that I fear have gone out of style, and maybe by and large forgotten. Nonetheless these ‘old’ approaches are just as valid and powerful today as they were back then.

I’m thinking especially of the task of identifying potential major gift prospects within an organization’s base of donors.

Of course, organizations today have many options for identifying major gift prospects including wealth screening services and predictive analytics. But, as valuable as those services may be, there’s one wonderful tool that any organization regardless of size and budget can and should use: The Screening Session.

In simplest terms a ‘screening session’ occurs when you put a list of potential major gift donors in front of folks knowledgeable about people of wealth in a particular community. You confidentially share a list of prospects with these folks and seek input on the prospect’s capacity to give and her/his affinity for your cause.

You go down your list of names and funders, and you ‘screen’ the names as you discuss them one by one. And you can do it one-on-one or in small groups. Most important: the information you receive is often far more powerful — and useful — than anything produced by a wealth screener or a predictive algorithm.

Take a look at Gail Perry’s post Screening Sessions:  A Terrific Tool for Major Gift Prospect Research and you’ll quickly see why screening sessions are so valuable, and steps you can take to make the most of them.

Gail’s post quickly and clearly covers the basics of organizing and running a screening session. And, especially helpful, it tells you what to avoid. Here are the topics she covers:

  • Who can participate in a screening session
  • What type of information you might discover
  • How to invite someone to participate in a screening session
  • Two kinds of screening sessions

Here’s the type of valuable information you’ll get from a good old-fashioned screening session that you’re highly unlikely to get from digital data and analytics.

  • How to open the door with the prospect.
  • How best to develop the prospect’s interest in your organization
  • When’s the best time to approach your prospect
  • Who is the decision maker in the family
  • Who might be able to influence your prospect’s decision to give.

This is good, fundamental major gift building-block stuff. So do yourself a favor and mouse click your way to an important, time-honored and proven method for major gift fundraising.

If you already use screening sessions please share your experience with us.


P.S.  While I’m on the subject of basic building blocks for major gifts, you’ll also benefit from Gail’s 7 Golden Prospecting Strategies for Major Gifts. Again, great advice here for small shops, mid-sized shops and even the giants.


















This article was posted in: Board Meeting Swipe File, Major donors, Nonprofit management.
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