But after you’ve been in prospect research for a while, there are a few clues that, when you uncover them, you know immediately to stop researching and run up to the third floor to talk to the head fundraiser. For example, you might notice that:
- The prospect donated from a Coutt’s or family office account
- They’re on a Forbes list
- They’re the trustee of a self-named foundation
- They own a home in Bermuda, or on Eaton Square, or at 834 Fifth Avenue
- They belong to the Carnegie Club at Skibo Castle
- They pop up on a list of mega-yacht owners
It’s moments like that that you don’t need to fear missing out on wealth information. In poker terms, those are a huge “tell.”
Your constituency may not contain many ultra high net worth (UHNW) individuals – that is, people who have $30 million or more in investable assets. But you should be prepared to recognize clues so that you don’t ever miss out if someone does live in that sphere.
How you can be sure to do that is to, in a way, vicariously inhabit the world that they do so that you can recognize the context.
Imagine for a moment that you’re someone who has never seen an episode of Game of Thrones. You have just learned that the show is actually a documentary about a real place. Now imagine that you’re required, for your job, to understand important nuances of that place and its key wealthy people, and provide lengthy reports to colleagues who have actually visited Westeros a number of times.
As prospect development professionals, that’s exactly your job. You’re trying to find clues to identify and describe the lives of people who live in a world you do not inhabit and whose lifestyle and customs are probably very different from yours. Your job is to recognize what those clues look like so your organization doesn’t miss an opportunity to build a relationship with someone who could make a huge impact.
Thankfully, reading can help a lot. There’s the Robb Report, for example. And Forbes, of course. Also Elite Traveler, Prestige (global and 6 regional editions), Bespoke, and Noblesse (if you read Chinese).
What other clues are there?
The clues below aren’t fool-proof; for example, sometimes people save up their whole lives for an anniversary cruise in a suite on the Regent Seven Seas Explorer, so if you hear that someone was on the ship it doesn’t necessarily mean they’re afloat in cash. But here are a few indicators that may point you in the direction of a potential UHNW constituent, especially if you notice they sport more than one indicator. They…
- are regulars at Art Basel in Switzerland or Miami
- participate at the World Economic Forum in Davos
- frequent the Aspen Ideas Festival, the Kentucky Derby, or the Masters Golf Tournament
- appear on the Chronicle of Philanthropy $1 million donors list
- have written (or have appeared in) a book on the history of their family
- collect vintage cars
- fly in and out of a different airport than your city or area’s main hub (a clue that they own their own jet)
- belong to more than one yacht club
- go on vacation for a month or more (to exotic locations or islands)
- are good friends with anyone on the Forbes or Sunday Times lists (people hang out with people in their same socio-economic bracket).
- donate from an account in a tax shelter location (Caymans, Jersey, Isle of Man, Bermuda, etc.)
Want to keep track of these nuggets? Create a worksheet or binder
A certain awesome research team I know has created a binder that they call their “Bling Book,” which is where they put all of the indicators of wealth that they stumble across. That might be anything from exclusive NY club membership rates to average private equity compensation to how much you need to have to open a Barclay’s International bank account (it’s £25,000 btw).
In addition to capturing all of the HNW indicators that you find in your daily reading, a worksheet or binder is a great way to share key information with frontline fundraisers, and allows your shop to pass along knowledge from one prospect research generation to the next.
Don’t forget the follow-ons
When you’re gathering your indicators of wealth in your worksheet or bling book, remember to consider in the plus column what else goes along with that thing. The trappings of wealth aren’t just the asset that you find. For example:
- A million-dollar painting requires insurance to cover it. Wall space to hang it. A security system to protect it. (And usually there’s never just *one* million dollar painting…)
- Stately vacation homes require on-site or out-sourced staff to manage, clean, and lawn-service them. They need to be furnished and decorated. And private jets (or commercial flights) to get there. And vehicles for the owner to drive once they’re there. Maybe a boat or two for tooling around on the water. And insurance on the cars, boats and planes.
- Thoroughbred horses require feeding, stabling, shoeing, jockeying, managing, training, doctoring, transporting, and insuring.
- Mega-yachts require…well, that’s a whole other blog topic, but suffice it to say, a *lot*.
The point is, everything begets. Don’t forget to add these things into any calculations of wealth that you’re doing, or to notice them as clues to greater wealth.
And speaking of which, what clues make you sit up and take notice? Add them to your cheat sheet, and/or share them here in the comments!