Goldilocks and the Forbes 400 List

Nicole S. McWhorter, CFRE
Nicole S. McWhorter, CFRE
With a double major in Advertising and Public Relations and double minor in Marketing and Communication Studies from Texas Tech University and creative agency experience, Nicole uses her background to package institutional visions into compelling messages for her clients. She is a sustaining member of the Houston Junior League and instructor at the University of Houston Nonprofit Leadership Alliance and Rice University Glasscock School of Continuing Studies.


So it happened last week – just as it does every year – the announcement and publication of the Forbes 400 list. Forbes terms it as the “definitive list of wealth in America” and I can’t argue with that description. In fact, the estimated aggregate wealth for the full list is somewhere north of $2 trillion ($2.4 trillion to be exact).  So in the coming days and weeks, fundraisers will have several versions of the below conversation.

  • Well-meaning person: “So, I saw the Forbes 400 list came out yesterday and I heard 33 alone live in Texas! That should make things really easy for you.”
  • Fundraiser: “Yes, it did but it doesn’t actually work like that…”

Don’t get me wrong, the Forbes 400 is a great list and a valuable piece of information but it’s only part of the puzzle – the Capacity piece (are they capable of giving?). It does not solve for the other two parts – Interest and Connection. And in fundraising, those two pieces are where the magic happens.

  • Interest – Is the prospect interested in what we do? Interest could be based on a past gift to your organization – even if it is at a more modest level. If not, then check to see if they give to other organizations like yours or if there is a direct link between your programs and mission and their interests.
  • Connection – Are we able get the prospect to have a conversation with us? Connection is often times the hardest piece to find. So, do we have a board member that knows the prospect?

Altogether, I call it the Goldilocks Prospect Test. Putting aside Goldilocks’ penchant for crime (specifically, trespassing and destruction of property), there is still a valuable lesson to be learned.  Having a prospect with the extreme in any one category doesn’t make them the right prospect for you and your organization. You can have someone who you are very well connected with (e.g., a past board member) and who you speak with weekly but if they don’t have the ability to give at the level you need then it’s not the right prospect. But if you have all three then “it’s just right.”

And to give you some perspective for prospecting, the giving of the 400 foundations with the largest giving is around $27 billion and their collective assets is around $558 billion – over 4 times less than assets of the 400 richest individuals in the US. So nothing to sneeze about but the lesson is clear. Individuals are a great place to focus and align your efforts.

So you likely have some great prospects that you already know who have the capacity to give a large and very meaningful gift to your campaign and they likely aren’t on the Forbes 400 list. But, just in case, you can check it out here.

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