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Prospect Identification Using Crowdsourcing Screenings

Fri, May 29, 2015 12:42 PM | Laura Parshall

Finding new prospects is always a challenge, especially for organizations without an alumni base. In this article, Debbie Neumann and Bill Gotfredson from Boston Children's Hospital describe a new method their office is using to effectively screen large numbers of potential donors in a short amount of time.

Prospect Identification Using Crowdsourcing Screenings

by Debbie Neumann and Bill Gotfredson

We’ve all been tasked with finding more prospects. Perhaps you were even so lucky to receive a request to screen a list of thousands of names to find wealthy, powerful, or successful potential donors with an interest in your organization. Where do you start? How can you screen that many individuals in a concentrated amount of time? How can you review and confirm your results include prospects that will bring a smile to a major gift officer’s face?

The Prospect Research team at Boston Children’s Hospital Trust receives these types of requests all of the time. We’ve found a new way to screen thousands of records in a relatively short period, with legitimate leads major gift officers are excited about.

What’s changed is the process the Prospect Research team uses to screen prospects. The process is based on the idea of “crowdsourcing.”  What do we mean by “crowdsourcing”? In our prospect research office, it’s a process which involves prescreening work followed by a unique type of a team-wide meeting. It includes a two hour meeting, 3-4 days per week in which the entire team works collaboratively to review a list of prospects for wealth, philanthropy, patient experience, and board relationships in real time. It is easiest to understand with a comparison of our past process with our new process.



Before Implementing Crowdsourcing: 

• Screenings were conducted at the request of fundraisers proactively, and confined to patient appointments at the physician level for encounters that occurred within the past 24 months.

• While the screening of prospect names was done by all of the researchers, the analysis was performed by one researcher who coordinated the efforts of the team.

• Only prospects arising from the screening that were assigned to fundraisers or who were researched to confirm capacity were entered into the donor database.

• There was no way to track or confirm that a prospect had previously been screened but not assigned or researched.

• Researchers would work on their piece alone and would work the screening in around other projects, with a deliverable date.

• Fundraisers received the finished research product: a multi-page memo summarizing results.

• There was some overlap; the research memo included names of previously assigned prospects (if they came through the department currently screened) because the physician wanted to see who was already assigned; also, we would get the occasional request to screen the patients of a physician in a department where another physician had been screened – and if the patient had seen both physicians during the 24 month window, they would be represented in each research memo.


• The research memo did not always lead to clear next steps for the fundraisers since the names were screened even if their patient contact was minimal (and/or more significant in a different department) and there was no additional information that could help the fundraisers reach out (i.e. through board connections).

• Ultimate assignment of the prospects identified was subject to the fundraiser’s ability to move decisively with the material provided (their success was often contingent on factors beyond their control, including physician involvement, methods of HIPAA complaint outreach, timing and other factors).

After Implementing Crowdsourcing:

• Screenings are conducted proactively on a monthly basis, looking at patient encounters hospital-wide.

• The entire team is involved. We all focus on one prospect at a time.

• We enter all of the information into the database for each prospect assignment and manage the records that don’t get added using a software tool that is compatible with our Raiser’s Edge database to defend against duplications.

• Wealth analysis and ratings are reviewed and confirmed with the whole research team.

• The encounter history of all members of the family can be reviewed to determine the patient with most significant hospital experience (even if that experience had happened in the past).

• Research makes recommendations for assignment based on established Trust business rules, and presents identified prospects at a regular Major Gift assignment meeting. Once assigned, fundraisers receive the research product: a spreadsheet including employment, a basic wealth analysis, patient experience, philanthropy and board connections or other relevant information (for example family wealth, business news) that surfaced during the screening and could support an initial step toward engagement or cultivation strategy.


With the current method, when we leave the room at the end of the two hour block the screening process for that group of prospects is in most cases complete from wealth identification to assignment suggestion. The designated time ensures quick turnaround. An extra bonus of this process is the time spent working together in one room for a two-hour block of time has been a great team-builder, especially important for us since we have had two new staff members join the team late last fall.


However, it can be hard to tear yourself away for a two hour meeting when you are focused on other projects and other deadlines, and have to figure out where you left off when the screening session is done. Some of the other challenges in this process are: people talk over each other in their haste to share what they’ve found; efforts are duplicated if researchers jump on the same tools; and when the session doesn’t yield many major gift hits, it can feel like we’ve wasted the time of the team, not just one researcher (although this has not happened often).


At Boston Children’s Hospital Trust, with this new process, it gives us the opportunity to screen every patient and every donor of the hospital. In an average month, there are about 11,000 patient families that visit the hospital. Through preliminary wealth screening, we are able to narrow that group to approximately 100 individuals to review in our crowdsourcing meetings.

After seven months of meetings, our preliminary results have found that approximately 20% of individuals screened in the crowdsourcing sessions exhibit the majority of the qualities of the major gift prospects our frontline team is hoping for in new prospects. Those include: quality patient experience, confirmed wealth of at least $10 million, history of philanthropy, and possible connections to board members.

So far we’ve observed that the conversion rate for all hospital patient families to assigned major gift prospects averages 0.2%. Even though the percentage is small, it means that of the 150,000 patient families that come for a visit at the hospital per year, 300 new major gift prospects are identified for assignment.

We’re still too early in the fundraising cycle to be able to analyze the success of dollars raised from our new crowdsourcing process. Anecdotally, fundraisers applaud the new process for its quality of prospects, their confirmed wealth, the immediacy of their experience with the institution, the ability to engage doctors with families they have current relationships. The major gift managers love that they can now review quality prospects for assignment with only a handful of assignments per month per officer. It gives major gift officers a manageable number of newly identified prospects to reach out to without swamping their to-do list.

One complaint we don’t hear very often anymore is that we need to identify more prospects. In fact, our leadership giving and planned giving teams are chomping at the bit for prospects identified through this process and are now part of the discussions around assignment. HIPAA changes that took effect in September 2013 have relaxed certain restrictions around initial approach, further enabling quick action.

We’re in the process of building reports to better communicate our notes from the crowdsourcing sessions for officer assignment, and working in the database to confirm that we’re tracking the information transparently and effectively.

We’ve also begun experimenting with expanding this process to other uses. Recently, we applied this to individual officer’s portfolio review by using a smaller group (in this instance, three members of the Prospect Research team) focused on an in-depth analysis, with good results. It is likely this replicable process will find more uses in our shop in the future.

The crowdsourcing method has changed the office’s perspective on the quality of new potential donors Prospect Research identifies. With that change has brought improved perspective in our role as strategic partners, with the information and analysis to move major gift fundraising forward.  


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