Gender-Based Assumptions Could Be Limiting Your Prospect Research

It is no longer news that women make up a larger percentage of the young undergraduate college population than men do. This has been true since women like me headed off to college in the 1970s. Women also make up a higher percentage of graduates (58% of all degrees granted in the US in 2013) and are more likely to graduate (66% of women vs. 61% of men in 2014).

More critical for prospect research in the higher education arena are the discoveries made by researchers at the University of Michigan in 2011: the gender gap in college graduation widens as income grows, with women in the highest income group achieving a graduation rate 13% higher than men. Meanwhile, as the Lilly School of Philanthropy’s Women Give 2012 report noted, “Senior women age 50 and older control net worth of $19 trillion and own more than three-fourths of the nation’s financial wealth.” That’s good news, since the report also notes that women 50 and older are nearly twice as likely as men to donate more than 3% of their income, even at the highest income level.

Clearly, as time moves on, more and more of the prospects in higher education, and indeed across the entire nonprofit sector, will and should be women.

Yet, at the same time, it would seem that the databases of many organizations aren’t prepared to handle this. As a consultant, I see single records created for married and partnered couples all the time. My clients are frustrated at not being able to accurately capture information — I get questions about where to put the wife’s email or how to code the members of the Mothers Group or Women’s Association when the name on the record is that of the man.

A recent question on the APRA PRSPCT-L listserv was directed at organizations that don’t use these single records for a household. The question was about handling metrics for contact reports, and among the replies, a common solution was to identify a primary record for the sake of accurate metrics and not enter duplicate contact reports on both spouses’ records.

A couple of the respondents, however, did what I’d done at a university I’d worked for: they had complete records for both spouses and used database attributes and other codes to report and count contact reports.

At the university, we used similar attributes and database codes to derive prospect research and development officer metrics and to target mailings. But we made sure solicitor assignments, capacity and engagement ratings, contact reports, event bios, secondary homes, and many other things were entered on the records of both spouses.

I think this matters.

It matters for data integrity; your database should reflect full and accurate activity, and you shouldn’t have to hunt in one record for answers to another nor should you have to store information about one person in the record of another. But it is even more important for the thoughtful cultivation and stewardship of women’s philanthropy, which should not have to be sacrificed for the sake of metrics or efficiency.

Preeti Gill, prospect researcher for the Vancouver Community Foundation recently wrote in her blog post, Go For Her: Four Ways to Make Women Your Top Giving Prospects in 2015:

A woman deserves her own record in your database, even if her man is your primary prospect. She may outlive him and inherit his wealth and granting wishes. She may be more interested in your organization than him, even if he has the official connection and ability.

She goes further, questioning the gender-based assumptions which may inform her own prospect research methods and noting that wealth screenings often discount women’s capacity. Indeed, screenings—which often prioritize the public company boards on which women are still underrepresented—can also miss many of the relationships women have created.

A few months ago, Gill created the Twitter hashtag #gogirlresearch, and she and others began sharing their discoveries and thoughts about women’s wealth and philanthropy. She is calling for nothing less than a new approach and attitude for prospect research.

Around that same time, my daughter, a college sophomore working for the Telefund, told me about a conversation she had with a 1960s alumna. Part of her standard script is to ask alums why they chose the major they did. The reply she got? “Back then women had two options: teaching or nursing.” Then the alumna asked what my daughter was studying and told her she wished she had had those kind of choices. My daughter replied, “Yeah, but without your generation paving the way, I wouldn’t have them either.”

This lovely woman gives back every year, but this time she gave more.




Sarah Bernstein is an independent consultant in Milwaukee, WI, supporting nonprofit organizations with prospect research and database analysis. She earlier worked in both the social service and higher education sectors. Sarah is an active member of APRA International and past president of the APRA Wisconsin Chapter. She blogs at The Fundraising Back-Office and can also be found on LinkedIn and Twitter.

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