Social media and high net worth individuals

twitter-top-hatAlthough more people are piling into an ever-growing array of social media (SM) outlets every day, it’s still fairly rare to see a Klout score or Twitter summary on a prospect research profile. Maybe it’s because we major gifts specialists assume that it’s only Xers and Millennials using these platforms, and they’re not yet ready to make large gifts.

But according to Ledbury Research, which studies the habits and demographics of high net wealth individuals (HNWI) in the United Kingdom, at least 75% of HNWI use social media regularly.

The largest group actively uses LinkedIn (47%), which makes sense since so many are businesspeople, but Facebook (42%), Google+ (17%) and Twitter (13%) are also used regularly.

They report that 33% of the wealthy use three or more social media outlets.

A potential discovery rate of one third! I’d like to have those odds more of the time when I’m researching hard-to-find folks, how ‘bout you?

So if our wealthy constituents are posting publicly on Twitter, Facebook, or Google+, shouldn’t we see what they have to say? Maybe they’re talking about us! (at least, don’t we hope so?)


Recently I was researching a wealthy individual for a university client of ours, and as usual I found information on LinkedIn and saw in the contact information he shared that he also had a Twitter account.

In browsing his Twitter feed, I discovered that the donor not only had a keen interest in a particular professional football team (who knew he was a sports fan?!) but verifiable personal relationships with the owners and certain players: Instagrammed photos! I wondered, “Could that be beneficial in some way for relationship building between the university’s athletics program and the pro team? Or might the donor be interested in athletics scholarships?” I don’t know much about the legalities of pro/college relationships (and that’s for the university to work out), but I do know that athletics scholarships are always welcome.

I also noticed a theme emerging in the type of information the donor shared and re-tweeted. It indicated a strong likelihood that he would be interested in a new philanthropic priority area at the university that isn’t going to be announced for another six months. Could there be the possibility of a lead gift opportunity?

Finally, I saw in his feed several mentions of the university itself. The donor re-tweeted several of the communications department’s broadcasts, and added his own comments. I know that in many cases a university’s communications department is completely separate from the fundraising office, and these expressions of interest might go unnoticed. It was certainly worth my noting it in the profile.

What I like about Twitter for prospect research is that it provides us with ideas about a donor’s possible philanthropic interest areas and even inclination information. If they’re retweeting or commenting on stories about your organization, what are they saying? Good things? Or are they critical? Either way, there’s an opportunity for a conversation.


Quite frankly, I was surprised to see such a high percentage of HNWI on Google+. But it’s not a surprise to the smart folks at Forrester Research, who found in a survey that 22% of online adults visit G+ each month, about the same number that use Twitter.

Perhaps one reason why they like G+ is the opportunity to be more free with the length of their posts (compared to Twitter) in an environment that still feels professional (compared to Facebook). It’s sort of the business casual Friday hangout place of social media.

And because it’s a Google product, searching for people who are on G+ is pretty simple. On the down side, as with Facebook, most people don’t have a public Google+ stream (although I’ve been surprised with grip-n-grin snaps on G+ and vacation-home photos posted on Facebook every once in a while!). It’s a 99:1 bet that you won’t see most peoples’ feeds, but hey – there is always that 1%.


Reading through the last six months or year of a prospect’s social media feed can give you a good sense of the themes and interests that they have. Try adding a social media summary to your next profile when you notice useful cultivation-strategy ideas that could be communicated to a frontline fundraiser.

The UK Mansion Tax: a ‘game changer’ for researchers

Bodnant House

We continue our theme of international research with an extended pause in the UK (because as anybody who knows me knows, I’ll take *any* excuse to pause there!). This week, guest blogger Ben Rymer shares with us some tantalizing news about high net worth real estate in Britain. Ben is the Fundraising Research and Insight Manager at Age UK, the UK’s largest charity working with and for older people, where he has worked for four years.  His professional interest and specialism is in measuring affinity and gauging capacity to give using data.  This is his first article for the Intelligent Edge.  He tweets at @benrymer. [Read more…]

We don’t need no education

Well, that’s just a big ‘ole fat lie, isn’t it? Any prospect researcher out there who has blown your socks off with a list of great new prospects they got from mining the database has training to thank for it. Ditto someone who proactively provides information from alerts they’ve created from Lexis Nexis or a search engine.

These sorts of skills don’t grow organically out of a new researcher’s brain, I don’t care how smart they are. Investing in prospect research training makes staff more efficient, and it also makes fiscal sense.

For example: everyone on my staff (myself included) is required to attend at least two continuing education seminars or conferences a year as part of their annual performance evaluation. If we’re not keeping up on the latest resources and techniques we’re not doing our best for our clients, and that will sooner or later impact my company’s bottom line for a whole variety of reasons, not least of which is team-member satisfaction. When I get a great employee, I want to keep them.

It’s good business, whether you’re a for-profit or a nonprofit.

Can’t afford it with the budget you’ve got? There are lots of free or low-cost continuing education options out there, too, through professional associations like APRA and through vendors.

Take a look at upcoming events for the next few months both virtual and in real life:

September 18: APRA/WealthEngine web seminar: “The New Face of Prospect Research” (Free to APRA members)

October 9: ShareTraining web seminar: “But How Likely Are They to Give to Us?; Factoring High Net Worth Donor Motivation” with faculty member Jeff Briskin, project manager for the Bank of America-University of Indiana’s original HNW study

October 10-12: APRA-Canada conference: “Leading Discovery” at the Courtyard Marriott Downtown in Toronto

October 19: NEDRA day-long seminar: “Research Basics Bootcamp” at Northeastern University

November 9: APRA-Upstate NY Fall Conference: “Predictive Modeling from the Ground Up” at the University of Rochester

November 20: ShareTraining web seminar “Money Businesses; A Capitalist Primer” with the always-popular Valerie Anastasio

Not to mention lots and lots of free or low-cost replay seminars from ShareTraining, APRA and most of the vendors out there.

Have I left any off? Want to promote your prospect research event? Comment and let us know!

Summer reading: wealth and philanthropy

With the publication of the always-worth-reading “World Wealth Report” last week, it reminded me that I wanted to mention to you a few white papers about high net worth individuals (HNWIs) that are well worth your time.  They are:

The World Wealth Report 2011.  CapGemini / Merrill Lynch.

  • FREE with registration.
  • Brief overview with additional links here; actual report in English here.
  • The WWR details high net worth individuals worldwide: where they live, what they spend their money on, how they allocate their assets, etc. and they break the information down by country or region to achieve even more granularity.  A tidbit I found interesting in this report: women made up 27% of the global HNW population in 2010, up from 24% in 2008.  From under a quarter to nearly a third in two years – what does that make you think about your prospect portfolios?

The Wealth Report: A Global Perspective on Prime Property and Wealth 2011. Knight Frank / Citi Private Bank.

  • Pdf version is FREE, click here.  Hard copy also available with registration.
  • For researchers and front-line fundraisers specializing in international work, this is a must-read overview of already-hot and emerging high-growth regions, industries, and people with a focus on global wealth and real estate.  Contains interviews with experts such as Rupert Hoogewerf of the Hurun Rich List and discussions of topics including venture philanthropy.

Bank of America Merrill Lynch High Net Worth Philanthropy Study 2010.  In collaboration with Indiana University Center on Philanthropy.  Biennial.


  • Pdf version is FREE, click here.
  • The study is a survey of HNWIs to discover their attitudes toward giving and philanthropic behavior, how they make philanthropic decisions within their household, and their thoughts on volunteering and engagement.  In addition to the study, there is also a video at the site featuring a panel discussion with two members of the Bank of America team and the director of research from the IU Center on Philanthropy.

Not specifically about HNWIs, but certainly related is:

Giving USA 2011. The Giving USA Foundation / Indiana University Center on Philanthropy

  • Hard copy; web-based version; powerpoint slides and pdfs; $75
  • Subscribers can (at the moment) access Volume One: the Numbers.  Full publication to be released in July.
  • Giving USA provides preliminary statistics on giving within the United States.  The resource comes as a hard-copy book or web-based version, and includes tons of charts, graphs, and statistics as well as information on historical giving and trends.

Lastly, and maybe most fun:

For an engaging, entertaining, and enlightening article that gives you a glimpse into what it’s really like to be ultra wealthy, read this some Friday afternoon at 3 when you still need to work but just can’t make your brain do anything.  From The Atlantic magazine, the article is called “The Rise of the New Global Elite.”

Do you have any other must-read white papers to share?

The Scoop on Venture Philanthropy

Map of Europe

My friend Chris Carnie at Factary in Bristol, England gave me a scoop that I am excited to share:  Factary is releasing a white paper today on venture philanthropy in the UK and Europe titled The Venture Philanthropists; A Review of Venture Philanthropy Funds in the UK and the People Behind Them.

What makes this study different is that it is written by someone on the inside: Chris is a member of the Finance and Fundraising Committee of the European Venture Philanthropy Association (EVPA) and works closely with members of the venture philanthropy (VP) community.  This fascinating white paper focuses on the specifics:  Who they are.  How much they give.  What they give to. And most importantly, the keys to involving them.  I asked Chris a few questions:


HELEN BROWN: Chris, how long have you been following this topic and what kind of access have you gotten to the real story?

CHRIS CARNIE: We’ve been tracking venture philanthropy in Europe since it started. I got interested when one of the founders of VP in Europe attended a training course I gave years ago; he came from a private equity background, and wanted to know more about how the nonprofit sector worked. I spent some time with him, and then got to attend the first conference on VP in Europe, in Amsterdam in 2004. Since then, I have stayed involved and now serve on the Finance and Fundraising Committee of the European Venture Philanthropy Association, EVPA.

I’m interested in VP for lots of reasons. First, it has attracted some of the cleverest people I have ever met. People who are happy to throw all of the old ideas out of the window and build something completely new, creating social change in ways that are truly inventive. Second, it reaches a section of the community that has, historically, been very hard to get to – the private equity, City of London [financial district] people. Traditional “charity” is not very attractive to these people, but VP fits perfectly with the way they think. Third, well, when you get invited to speak at a private conference in Venice or Luxembourg, it’s hard to resist…

HB:  So what makes this new white paper a must-read?

CC: It’s a 70-page report on venture philanthropy in the UK. We’ve focused on the 130 or so people in the UK who have led and supported the growth of VP in the UK. The typical venture philanthropist was born in 1960 – so the median age is 51 – and is in private equity.  Eight out of ten VP trustees are male, and the most common source of women on VP boards is from the nonprofit sector.

He’s likely to be wealthy, and in fact the VP community have attracted a high proportion of people of wealth – across just 11 VP funds, we’ve counted 24 who feature in the UK’s best known wealth listing, the Sunday Times Rich List.

There are currently 11 full VP funds in the UK. I’m saying “currently” because the growth rate of VP in Europe has been extraordinary. The EVPA has grown membership 25 times in the last 6 years. They are supporting a very wide range of causes – there’s a shared interest in youth and education, but they are backing health, clean energy, HIV/AIDS too, both in the UK and overseas.

HB: But there are only 11 of these funds?  Why are they so important?

CC: That’s one of the keys to understanding this community of philanthropists – their influence is enormous. What’s happening is that large-scale foundations in Europe are taking a strong interest in the VP model. A number of the heavyweights have started venture funds within the umbrella of the larger foundation: an example in England is Charities Aid Foundation which runs a VP fund called Venturesome.

HB: Is that the future of VP?

CC: In part, yes. The VP model is about scale – growing small, high-impact nonprofits into bigger ones. In the UK we’re just at the start of that process (the first VP fund was set up here in 2002, four years after the Silicon Valley Venture Fund became the first VP in the US).  But we’re going to see stronger growth as the large foundations get on board. We’re also going to see traditional foundations copying the impact measurement tools that the VP community has developed. There will be continued growth in this sector and much of that growth will be international – the VP community has been very good at building links across Europe and the United States. Their conferences and meetings are multi-lingual affairs.

HB:  Thanks Chris for this sneak peek into the white paper.  For more information or to purchase the report for £125 contact Chris will be speaking on this topic for ShareTraining on April 12.

RELATED: The Atlantic magazine’s article “The Rise of the New Global Elite” by Chrystia Freeland provides another fascinating insider look at this group of influential and philanthropic individuals, including their interests and priorities.