A Brief Account | “This Is the Best D – – – Thing I’ve Ever Seen” or Donor Screening Saves the Day

You may have noticed on Carolyn’s Nonprofit Blog that I have sometimes been asked to tackle what others believe are “impossible” fundraising campaigns. Whether they be older fundraising efforts that cannot gain traction, or new ones that have great merit but for some reason have hurdles to overcome, I have been unafraid to take them on and turn them around.

I once volunteered for a well-regarded religious organization in Texas, helping it develop a meaningful case for support document and a prospective donor list. My volunteer activities spanned a year’s time. I was then asked to make a more concerted effort by working with the Board members on a full-time basis, a paid assignment. I did so gladly.

This organization’s work spanned several Texas counties. Members of the Board were among the most highly regarded CEOs in Texas. But I discovered that despite their stellar personal and business reputations – and the scope of their influence – the Board had for years been asking friends to give. These donors were not members of the specific denomination of the religious organization. They were not as deeply committed to the mission as someone within the church would be. A classic case of, “donor burnout” was plaguing the organization. And I might add, lack of proper research.

Building on my prior volunteer work, I fine-tuned my case for support document, replacing an attractive general brochure with in-depth research and discussion about the history, mission and well thought out future plans of the organization. I worked with the Board to devise ways to combat “donor burnout” in part by stepping-up communication efforts. In brief, prior donors had no idea the former campaign had been successfully completed. And I began conducting in-depth research on new potential donors.

I quickly came to the conclusion that a professional screening of the organization’s broad-based membership was in order. It took months of handwringing to get them to agree to it. But given the situation – and a genuine need for financial support to support the organization’s worthy mission – we had to do something new.

It took time, but we were able to secure several thousand membership records and run them through a screening service that used ethically sourced, publicly available databases to identify those with significant real estate, stock and similar holdings. And what we found is that we had been cultivating the wrong people. We had within our midst many capable donors who could potentially make charitable commitments and far exceed our new campaign fundraising goals.

Once I obtained the final results of the confidential screening, I presented my findings to the Board during a meeting at the headquarters office. I had a representative of the screening company patched-in remotely via video conference to explain how the service worked. I had some tough customers present (including two billionaires), and I knew they would grill me. I had rehearsed and developed responses to as many questions as I thought they would possibly ask (a lot of them). And I had pulled out the top 100 prospects from the screening, and prepared Excel spreadsheets for ease of reference for each member of the Board.

One of my Board members was the head of one of the most highly regarded banks in Texas. He was a true Texan through-and-though. And he was one of the toughest members of my audience that day. “I know what variable they are using for this.” “That can’t be right.” I kept going with my presentation.

While I normally have a cool head, I admit, I was a bit flustered. But with the help of the screening company executive on the videocall and my well-ordered Excel spreadsheet in the hands of each Board member, the bank president finally loosened up.

“This is the best d— thing I’ve ever seen.”


And with that, the organization was launched on a new path: cultivating people within the fold, ones capable of making major gifts, many of whom no one knew. I had been given the stamp of approval.


I revered Tom Frost and share with you the following link from the San Antonio Report which underscores his stellar reputation and his contributions to business and Texas. He is greatly missed.

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