The Foundation Screening List

Screen Shot 2015-02-13 at 11.24.46 AMI want to talk briefly about an important but underutilized development tool: the foundation screening list.  When we are first beginning our development careers everything we learn about foundations implies that they are pure meritocracies.  Have a good organization with a good project, write a good proposal and you’ll have as good a shot at getting funding as anyone else.  And to some extent this is true.  If you aren’t a well run organization and you don’t have a good project you probably won’t get funding.  But the reality is that you will be competing against many other meritorious organizations and not everyone one will get funded.  So, how do you stand out from the crowd?

The reality is the business of successful foundation funding is very much a “who you know” business.  I’m not saying that there is any sort of cronyism involved.  But I am saying that your ideas are more likely to be heard if you know the decision makers involved and have had a chance to talk over your work in detail.  I am saying that knowing trustees counts for a lot more than knowing program officers.  And I am saying that trustees and program officers knowing you and believing in your leadership and your ability to deliver on the promises of your proposal is critical.

So, a really valuable exercise for any organization is to know who you know on foundation boards and staffs.  How do we find this out?  The foundation screening list.

The foundation screening list is a packet of foundations (up to 25) likely to fund your organization based on their stated mission and its relevance to yours.  Each foundation gets it own page and on each page, triple or quadruple spaced, you’ll list every trustee and program officer.  If it is a large foundation then just list the relevant program officer.  You can see a sample layout here.

Now, what do we do with foundation screening list once we have one?  Sit down with your staff, your board and other volunteers, friends and anyone else willing to listen to you.  Ask them to flip through the list and see if they know anyone.  Ask them to write in the margins who they know and any important information about them.  Ask them if there is any foundation or anyone not on the list that they would be willing to contact.

Ask them if they’d be willing to help set up a meeting with anyone they know.

Over time you should get a pretty good catalog of who knows who and hopefully have people setting up meetings on your behalf.  Record everything in your database.

Hoarding: Buried Alive – The Donor Prospecting Edition

hoardersMany of you have probably seen or heard of the show, “Hoarding: Buried Alive” on TLC.  Each episode tells the stories of people struggling with hoarding behavior that has made everyday life unbearable for both them and their loved ones. Many of these individuals have piles and piles of objects and even garbage taking over their homes and eventually their lives.  For me, donor prospecting took on the same epic proportions.  I will admit it.

As a fundraiser, I have been guilty of donor hoarding – not being able to let go of donor names on my prospect list. I’ve seen these prospect names grow and grow and grow to eventually take over my work life (not really… but you get the point).   So as a former and now-recovered donor hoarder, here are a few tips for overcoming this condition:

Tips to Overcome Donor Hoarding:

1.  Assess the donor relationship beyond asking the 2 C’s (capacity and connection)

Ask yourself, “Does it truly make sense to have this person on my prospect list?” You might say to yourself, “Well, they gave $100,000 to another organization; why not ours?” But capacity alone doesn’t qualify someone to stay on your portfolio, nor does it establish a relationship. Here is where internal ratings and asking specific questions beyond capacity make a huge difference.  Case in point: I had Donald Trump on my major gifts prospect list for an organization I worked for. Yes, “The Donald” had the capacity to give to my organization but he wasn’t personally connected to my cause nor did we have true access to him. Needless to say, Donald Trump remained on our events invitation list but was removed from my major gifts portfolio.  Ask yourself these critical questions when determining whether or not to move a donor name off of your prospect list:

  • Is the person personally connected and engaged with my organization?
  • Are they philanthropic?
  • Do you or someone in your organization have access to the person directly?
  • During the next 6-12 months can the relationship move to the point where the person is ready to have a conversation about their philanthropy to your organization?

If the answer to most of these questions is NO and you don’t have a strategy you can implement immediately to move this relationship forward, then it’s time to move on and release this person from your portfolio. You can give this person a new home in your annual campaign or with your special events.

2.  Face Your Fears

You might fear that if you drop the name off your list they might not ever give…or worse you find out they gave a multi-million dollar gift to another organization. I know from experience how this fear can place you in a holding pattern, just waiting… waiting… waiting.  However, I learned that I couldn’t let the fear that the donor might give to another organization keep them on my list (just in case). The truth is if you have done the work to engage this donor and connect them to your organization and the relationship has not moved, it might not ever move in the way that you want it to and you have to be OK with that.  It’s not about our wants but the interests of the donor. Like the movie, “He’s Just Not Into You”, the donor might just not be into your organization.

Stop worrying that you might lose a potential big donor.  Let it go and spend the time on those donors who are into your organization. Focus on those donors who want to be engaged with your organization. They are out there!

3. Stop Allowing Names to Pile Up.  Get HELP!

A couple of years ago I inherited a list of 400 suspects.  That’s right: suspects, not qualified relationships.  It was overwhelming to say the least.  It took me a good six months to finally come up with a process to evaluate these relationships and be fine with moving a majority of the names off my portfolio. The process was simple: in addition to asking myself the critical questions listed above, I asked for help from my peers and colleagues.

The good thing is that you are not alone in this process. Even if you are a one-person development shop, you still have a group of people to assist you.  Start by rating the list of names internally.  Program staff, long time employees, the CEO and other members of the development staff can all help by adding what they know about the prospective donors. Share these names with them often and develop an internal rating system to assess for capacity, affiliation, inclination and readiness. Then make a decision to either move the relationship to another part of your development efforts or implement a strategy to move the relationship forward. Do this at minimum on a quarterly basis.

There’s Hope!

It is possible to overcome donor hoarding. I promise! Remember your task is to engage the most promising qualified donors with your organization and authentically move these relationships forward. Unlike the TV show where people hoard objects, the reality is that we are talking about people and our relationships with them. While watching a “Hoarders” episode, I go into massive cleaning attack.  I clean absolutely everything in the house.  I hope this episode inspires you to do the same with your donor prospect lists. It’s OK to let release these names allowing for time spent building relationships resulting in more enthused, inspired and generous donors to your organization. For more information to cure donor hoarding and a complimentary tool for donor prospecting and pipeline building,  please contact us.