Guides & Resources

Wealth Screening vs. Prospect Research: Know the Difference

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All nonprofits—regardless of size or mission—rely on their community of supporters to power their work. This is why fundraising is so central to your nonprofit’s success—without generous donations from your supporters, you couldn’t deliver your mission to your beneficiaries. 

However, fundraising is much more complex than simply asking everyone you know for donations. A winning fundraising strategy requires you to take the time to understand your donors. 

That’s where donor research comes in. There are two common types that nonprofits typically rely on: wealth screening and prospect research. While they share similarities, they’re very different processes that are often confused with one another. 

In this post, we’ll clarify the particulars of wealth screening and prospect research and explore how you can use both types of research in your own fundraising strategy. Knowing what type of donor research to use and when will empower you to get the information you need to build strong relationships with donors and solicit support when the time is right. Let’s begin!

Wealth Screening: An Overview 

Wealth screening is the process of examining your nonprofit’s current donor pool for capacity (wealth) indicators that signal a donor may be able to give a large gift. Typically, you can already infer that the donor has an interest in your cause since they’ve already been involved with your organization in some way. 

To discover these capacity markers, you’ll use your donor database to examine individuals’ giving history and other information. You can also work with a nonprofit consultant experienced in donor research to further screen your donors to ensure you’re making asks that will yield donations.

When to Use Wealth Screening 

Both wealth screening and prospect research are critical for regular fundraising efforts, as well as specific programs and campaigns like your planned giving program or annual fundraising campaign. 

But to help you get an idea of some use cases for wealth screening in particular, let’s take a look at a few examples of when you might use it: 

  • When examining who in your donor pool may be able to upgrade their giving level: You might see that for years, one donor has been giving $500 each month as part of your recurring gift program. You could then use wealth screening to examine their current capacity for giving. If screening reveals that their capacity has increased, you could design an outreach strategy that thanks the donor for their consistent contributions and proposes that they increase their monthly gift to $800 or $1,000. 
  • When looking for a major donor to match other donors’ contributions: We’ve all seen gift-matching campaigns for which a donor has agreed to match donations made over a certain amount of time up to a specified amount. These are effective campaigns for encouraging lower-level gifts because they empower donors to increase their gifts’ impact. Plus, they can help you honor or spotlight major donors who provide matching funds. Wealth screening can reveal who of your major donors may be in a position to provide matches for a campaign or event. 
  • When starting a large-scale project: At the beginning of large-scale projects such as capital campaigns, you’ll rely on your biggest supporters for initial gifts, as well as feedback on your campaign plan. This is because these individuals are already familiar with your cause and your organization and can be enthusiastic supporters of your project. Wealth screening can help you identify these individuals and tailor your campaign messaging to them as you refine your plans prior to your campaign’s public phase.

Keep in mind that wealth screening allows you to take a closer look at donors who have already supported your organization’s cause in some way. Try to approach the wealth screening process with the goal of better understanding your current supporters’ needs, motivations, and ability to give. This can set your organization up to craft stewardship and solicitation strategies that strengthen relationships and empower your donors to do more for your beneficiaries.

Prospect Research: An Overview 

Prospect research, also known as prospecting, is a more comprehensive process than wealth screening. To conduct prospect research, you’ll look beyond your current pool of donors to find new prospects that exhibit both capacity (wealth) indicators (such as stock holdings and real estate ownership) and affinity (warmth) indicators (such as involvement with other philanthropic causes or a personal connection to someone in your database). 

When you find a prospect that has both capacity and affinity indicators, you know that you’ve found a viable major giving prospect that your organization can start reaching out to and cultivating. 

According to Donorly’s guide to prospect research tools, prospecting will involve using resources like government records, matching gift databases, prospect generator tools, internet archive tools, and social media to get a full picture of who each prospect is and how they might be able to get involved with and give to your cause. 

Many nonprofits understandably lack the time and knowledge required to use all of these tools to find prospects and opt to work with a prospect research consultant. The great thing about this approach is that a consultant can help you not only find prospects but also design a strategy for getting to know them and soliciting their support. 

When to Use Prospect Research 

Similar to our examination of wealth screening above, let’s take a look at some examples of instances where you’ll want to tap into the power of prospect research: 

  • When starting a major giving program: When your organization has grown to the point that you can begin building out a major giving program, you’ll want to leverage prospect research to find major donors beyond those you discover through wealth screening. Once you’ve found prospects who have the potential to give large gifts and may be inspired by your cause, you can assign them to a major gifts officer, who will reach out and begin to build a relationship with the individual. 
  • When looking for new donors to give to your annual fund: Your annual fund is your most important recurring fundraising campaign, the one that allows you to keep your nonprofit running. As your operating costs increase, you’ll find that it’s a good idea to use prospect research to identify new annual fund donors each year to keep up with your changing annual campaign goals. 
  • When seeking to grow your community: More donors equals more support for your mission. If your organization is scaling up, you need to continue expanding your pool of donors to pull in more funds for your mission. Use prospect research to find individuals who are passionate about your cause and to get to know them so that you can match them with opportunities for involvement that will resonate with them. 

Remember, prospect research provides a comprehensive view of new potential donors. The information you discover during prospecting can not only give you the names of prospects to reach out to, but also give you the details you need to customize your outreach so that you can get to know every prospect as a person. Then, you can lay the foundation for a strong and lasting relationship.  

Wealth screening and prospect research are both powerful processes for understanding donors both old and new. As you work to incorporate these donor research strategies into your larger fundraising strategy, remember that you can rely on the expertise of a nonprofit consultant to make your research efforts more efficient and effective. Good luck!

Sandra DavisFounder and President Sandra Davis leads Donorly with 30 years of fundraising experience and leadership. Sandra has consulted on numerous capital campaigns, led strategic planning and feasibility study efforts, and managed board development and recruitment efforts in addition to overseeing planned giving, special events, and annual giving programs. Under her leadership, Donorly has grown to support the fundraising efforts of over 75 clients to date.

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