Catherine Clark (Demetriadi as of 2014)
Presentation to Wealth Engine webinar, May 12, 2011
When I agreed to talk about the differences between wealth screening in the
US and UK, I thought it would be quite a straightforward topic, but then
Jocelyn said I had between 15 and 20 minutes for my presentation and … well,
the world became my oyster!
So, where I thought I’d start was to say that the differences are partly technical
and partly contextual. For me, it starts with the difference between US and UK
A bit about me: I’m American-born and bred, but a British citizen. I’ve been
‘doing’ development, mostly in the United States, since 1980. I started with
gala dinners, grant writing, and direct mail in the days when even rented lists
could easily net 15-20% returns. Things are certainly different now, as donors
have become savvier.
I moved on to annual fund campaigns, within which were, increasingly, a major
gifts component. I’ve also been the director of capital and endowment
campaigns, helping two organizations that had only ever asked their donors by
mail for gifts. And I’ve trained many boards of directors and charity executives
in the techniques of making major gift ‘asks’.
When I was looking for a job in the UK, it quickly became apparent to me that
there are indeed significant differences in fundraising styles between our two
nations (and forgive me for lumping Scotland, Ireland and Wales into that
Before I go into the differences, I want to say that these are WILD
generalizations, but they are also observations that other Americans have
So… the first difference is that UK fundraising seems very often to be what I
call ‘transactional’. That is, donors get something in return for their gifts.
For instance, ‘Friends of this and that’ ‘schemes’ abound (and by the
way, ‘scheme’ means ‘plot’ in American English, so British colleagues,
beware of using the word if you go West!). These are a kind of
membership where an annual, fixed sum is paid, usually by Direct
Debit, which is a charge against a donor’s bank account.
Many British non-profits seem to be membership rather than donor-
funded, where, again, the donor gets something fairly significant in
the way of access, gifts, or literature in return for an annual
The UK seems to have more charity shops per square acre than exist
in the entire North American continent.
The British do lots of runs and parachuting and bike rides, as do
Americans, but sometimes these seem to be the main form of fund
Street fundraising is called ‘face-to-face’ fundraising here, whereas, in
the United States, ‘face-to-face’ implies a sit-down meeting between
a major gift prospect and a senior staff member or executive director
and/or a trained volunteer, usually a board member or trustee.
The ‘contract culture’ of non-profits doing the outsourced work of
central and local government is enormous in the UK, with the result
that in hard times like these, many charities have suddenly found
themselves defunded and either crippled or bankrupt. I promised
myself not to take a swipe at the ‘Big Society’ in this talk. Consider
this my only swipe.
The UK does not have a ‘pledging’ culture where donors get credited
for, say, a £10,000 gift pledged over three years. Pledges are not the
same kind of legally binding but simply stated promise that
Americans are used to. Rather, they involve deeds of covenant and
other quite complicated paperwork and accounting. So in the UK we
do ‘regular’ giving, generally through standing orders, sometimes on
In general we are not great here at individualizing appeals or
thanking donors. This is a very bald statement but seriously, we do
often tend to treat members and donors as ATM machines. For
instance, I recently received a letter from one of my ‘Friends of’
charities, informing me that my Direct Debit would increase. They
didn’t ask me, and the result was that I cancelled my Direct Debit,
followed by a letter gently chewing them out.
And finally, the biggest difference seems to be that UK non-profits
generally hire fundraisers, not development directors. And there
really is a difference! ‘Development’ is not a euphemism for fund
raising, honest! A Development Director is the person responsible, as
I like to say, for ‘making fundraising happen’.
When I started my search for jobs in the UK a few years ago, I was
intrigued to see a number of capital campaigns that had brought in
their first 10% or so of their goal and now wanted to hire ‘an
experienced fundraiser with a car and a clean license’.
I contacted one church running a capital campaign to find out more.
Had 100% of their church leadership made a gift? Had their
congregation agreed to the campaign? Had they all been solicited?
Did the campaign leadership know where the rest of the money was
coming from? Working with a Church of England capital campaign
consultant --who happened to be the brother-in-law of one of the
campaign leaders -- we persuaded them to put a halt to the campaign
until those questions had been answered in the affirmative.
Then I discovered a lot of other ads saying fundraisers ‘must have car
and clean license’. I see jobs advertised daily that frankly curdle my
development-director blood, for instance,
Head of Fundraising, Guildford The more money YOU raise, the more young
adults we can support!
Key Relationships Marketing Officer Milton Keynes Have you got what it takes to
grow our mid-value donor programme to reach ambitious income targets?
I can just imagine the phone call. ‘Hello, Mr Jones, my name is
Catherine Clark and I am the Key Relationships Marketing Officer for
the XYZ Charity. I’d like to arrange a time to talk to you about how
you can help to reach my ambitious income target’.
Like I said, blood-curdling.
In United States colleges, where much of the best fundraising
practice is modeled, you may find a huge development department
that includes annual fund and alumni relations staff, as well as a
cohort of major gifts officers. But the chief fundraiser is well
understood to be the President of the college. It is also well
understood that, while major donors will be cultivated and
stewarded by major gifts officers – not major gifts ‘fundraisers’ – in at
least the first round of asking, which will have happened after a
number of what is termed ‘touches’ in American development lingo,
a significant gift will be solicited by a peer of the donor, by which I
mean the President, the chairman or other member of the board of
trustees, a dean of a college within a university, the head of a project
or programme, or another major donor – and preferably never by a
person perceived to be the hired help except as a partner in a
Someone coming to the UK who is imbued with this North American
philanthropic ethos immediately feels that the business of creating ongoing,
deepening relationships between donors and non-profits is some way behind
in Britain. However, in many corners, it is moving forward, and rapidly –
especially in British universities.
As one of my very successful American development director colleagues once
said to me, ‘I am just a widget – I am a means to the end of getting my charity
funded’. If when I look back on the British portion of my career I can say that I
successfully made widgets out of development/fundraising directors, I will be
very satisfied indeed.
So what are the chief differences between UK and US wealth screening tools?
Well, we all have Google and other Internet sources, there is the Times ‘Rich
List’, electoral rolls, donor lists from other charities’ annual reports, and there
are many companies out there providing wealth data to charities – at a cost.
There is the Charity Commission web site for trusts other online directories
also for trusts and foundations. And of course there is Wealth Engine, which
I’ve used in two non-profits in the United States and now here in Salisbury, at
the Royal School of Church Music.
The quality and quantity of data provided by all of these services is constrained
in the UK because of strict data protection laws. My first outing with an
English wealth screening company produced both some good and some truly
bizarre outcomes. (At that point, we were still a membership and ‘Friend of’
organization, so I had no other choice than to screen our data externally.)
I had paid for a ‘liquid wealth’ report. The result was – WOW! – a
hundred millionaires! I invited them all to an event at Lambeth Palace,
hosted by the Archbishop of Canterbury, to launch a new RSCM annual
fund. We made clear in the invitation that the event was for prospective
And while we did make a respectable amount of money as a result of
visits to donors after the meeting (and from some spontaneous giving),
later Wealth Engine research on the attendees (as well as their own
statements to me about their personal assets) showed that they were
mostly real estate-rich; worse still, several were living in very fancy
housing, provided by the Church and tied to their occupations as priests,
organists, and music directors. ‘Poor as church mice’, indeed!
Fortunately, I hadn’t asked the company for prospect profiles at a cost of
between £2.50 and £75 EACH. What a waste of time and resources that
would have been.
And while the data offered by Wealth Engine are very useful indeed, until
privacy laws change they will probably never be as useful as American data.
For instance, American donors who itemize their tax-deductions are making a
statement that they have reduced their tax obligation to the federal
government, in order to support legally incorporated charities. To which
charity and how much a donor gives are therefore searchable public
information. Election funding is almost entirely individual-driven, and strict
Federal Election Commission transparency laws make these gifts – to what
candidate, which political party, and, again, how much – almost
contemporaneously accessible. There are more demographic reports about
purchases and other household data available in the United States.
In either context, it’s vital to remember that the data are often out of date, and
can be inaccurate. They are part of a PICTURE that you are forming of
someone’s capacity to give; the other part, which is a donor’s propensity to
give, has to do with their record of charitable giving (which, as I’ve said, is hard
to determine from UK data), but most especially, it is to do with their
relationship to your non-profit. Donor-propensity calculations can only really
be constructed in-house.
•So -- how to interpret the donor data you already possess
I believe Oliver [from a British University] is talking in some detail about this
topic. So I will come at it from my experience as full-time development
director and capital campaign consultant to medium-size American charities.
These groups had arrived at a point where they needed to conduct major gifts
or capital campaigns. They had spent years of building a loyal donor base,
mainly through mailed appeals.
Now, one immediate consequence of the UK ‘fixed-rate’ membership or
Friends-scheme model of fund raising is that is impossible to analyze your
database the way it can be done in the US for the majority of non-profits. Thus
my need to go out-of-house for wealth-screening. If you do have appeals that
ask for a range of gifts, rather than fixed giving levels, then the following
method of populating your gift range chart is very, very simple and, frankly,
1) Run a report of everyone who has made a gift -- but NOT a gift solicited
in person, not a capital gift, and not a legacy pledge -- of £100 or more at
least 2 times in the last, let’s say, four years.
2) Multiply each donor’s top gift (not their cumulative annual giving) by 10.
3) Voila! You have your ‘ask’ amount, and you have your number of
donors in each gift category.
4) A caveat: You may find from wealth screening that the 10-times figure is
too low. This is one of the ways that Wealth Engine can help you to
develop an appropriate ‘ask’.
I’ve added a slide to this presentation with a gift range calculator, but a simple
web search will get you one and please don’t be a slave to the chart. The slide
also includes a link to my fundraising ‘guru’, Tony Poderis, about rating and
evaluating prospects. If the link doesn’t work, just type in ‘www.raise-
By years two and beyond of your major gifts work, you will already have
populated your gift range chart. So, if you have a £100,000 donor to your
million £ campaign, you won’t need to put any more prospect names into that
category. And if you have a disproportionate number of £1,000 donors, that’s
fine, though you will want -- after a second renewal at each level -- to work
towards increasing the size of these gifts.
•Ways to use Wealth Engine or other donor research.
Using your research has everything to do with the nature and history of your
non-profit. The way NOT to use it is when your director or board of trustees
comes at you and says, ‘We need to raise £1 million pounds; go out and find it’.
The next thing you know, you are typing Rich List names into Wealth Engine
and basically trying to figure out the maximum amount you can ask your
current donors or, God help you, complete strangers.
It might actually work, like the chances of being struck by lightning. There is a
predictable chance. But you probably won’t be struck by lightning, and chasing
down rich strangers probably won’t work either. I’ve been in this situation
twice in my career and in both cases the outcome was a lost job.
This leads directly to the final element of my talk:
•How to use your research in the context of building donor relationships.
Building donor relationships. There is no magic bullet for this. There are,
however, easy steps that may be taken to deepen relationships.
The first is to ask. Ask, ask, ask. Don’t be afraid to appeal to your donors many
times a year.
The second is to thank -- by letter, phone, relevant gifts, newsletters, e-
communications, invitations to events – all dependent on the size of gift, of
The third is to make sure to have the right – and TRAINED – persons doing the
asking, to ask for the right amount (which is where wealth research is vital),
and to honour your major donors in ways meaningful to the donors and
relevant to your non-profit.
Show your prospects the research and the information you keep on your
database, if they ask. Keep track of information such as family relationships,
divorce, deaths, changed financial circumstances. If your donor tells you these
things, then the donor wants you – by which I mean, your charity or non-profit
– to remember them.
The British Institute of Fundraising injunction to tell our prospects where and
how you discovered their asset information, company connections, and
household data is a good one; in the United States, all major donors know that
they will have been the subject of research -- and in fact would think a non-
profit was completely foolish if they hadn’t done it. I do find in the UK that
board members and prospects are often shocked that these data are available.
Make sure you have a database that is up to the task of keeping this
information, and that it is searchable. Make sure only those who ‘need to
know’ are able to access the information. I am the current victim of a database
that was excellently constructed to manage membership but cannot manage
‘moves’ in donor relationship building.
Make sure also to keep your list of ‘inner circle’ members updated. This is
Wealth Engine terminology for your board of directors, executive staff,
advisory panel, and key volunteers. One suggestion I have for Wealth Engine is
to make this something that can be refreshed against past research; at
present, you have to enter your ‘Inner Circle’ at the beginning of your WE
There is much more that can be said and, as you can tell, I have several bees in
my bonnet. But I’ve been involved in spectacularly successful major gift
campaigns over the years and believe it is simply a matter of what works and
what doesn’t work, not that there is ‘what works in the UK’ and ‘what works in
Over to Oliver! And thanks so much for taking the time to learn about how to
use wealth screening tools.