One of the most difficult decisions a fundraiser has to make is which donor or prospect to focus time. Time is our scarcest resource, and we try many different ways to make sure our calls are made to the right people. One of the criteria for making sure we use our time with the right people is “affinity.” Does this prospect like our cause and is the prospect inclined to give to our cause?
Obviously, if a person is giving to your organization every year in increasing amounts, or they volunteer/attend events, they have high affinity or at least ‘some’ affinity for your institution. What I am more intrigued with is the leap some organizations make to affinity after examining giving to other, like nonprofits. Does affinity for one organization indicate affinity for a like institution?
The most widely used external data to determine affinity is giving to other organizations. If a person donates to a hospital they are typically deemed to have high affinity towards healthcare. If they give to their alma mater, they appear to be inclined to support higher education. The examples continue, but aren’t these huge leaps? What if the hospital being supported saved the life of a family member? Wouldn’t this be a specific instance of support rather than an over-arching desire to support healthcare causes? How can anyone translate a gift to an alma mater as an indicator towards higher education support? In an industry that relies so heavily on relationship building to solicit major gifts, these leaps from single organization support to industry affinity seem quite big.
Don’t get me wrong, there are things to learn from other institutions’ annual reports, but there should be an intelligent and well thought out connection from the data collected. My parents live in the town where my father went to college. He supports his alma mater. The only other higher education institutions he supports are ones that other family members attended. He does not have affinity for higher education, he has affinity for his school. What can this mean for other nonprofits? He supports the local hospital, library, children’s museum, etc… His affinity is for his college, and believes supporting the town’s nonprofits is a way to directly improve his school. His giving to the local hospital does not mean he is going to give money to other healthcare causes, he is not inclined to help fine arts and culture because of his gifts to the museum. There is a logical and personal conclusion to be drawn from giving to an alma mater and supporting local nonprofits. This is in contrast to a line drawn from giving to one college and assuming it means affinity towards any other college.
Before I receive angry posts, I absolutely acknowledge that outside giving is a factor in preparing a profile. Let me give you an enviable situation, Bill Gates and Steve Jobs are consistent donors to your organization, through internal data you have identified them as good prospects with affinity, and through a capacity analysis you have determined they both have means. Using outside giving as a reference, and if for some reason you only have one appointment slot, you are going to start talking to Bill Gates. He gives money away, and has a proven track record of philanthropy. Steve Jobs did not give money away, and all things being equal between the two, proven philanthropy is a nice decision maker.
Use your own data to find your best prospects, use external data to determine capacity, and then if you need one more data set, approach giving to other organizations.
As with all of our posts, your input is greatly appreciated and welcome. How do you use outside giving in your prospect rankings?