Tag Archives: Data Mining

Cure Analysis Paralysis with this Visual

In this wonderful era of exciting, off-the-shelf prospect research tools and one-click-away data analysis, how is it that we still struggle to prioritize our donors and prospects? But we do. The results come in, the scores are assigned and yet there are still way more highly-rated prospects than our staff could possibly contact. Which names do we call on first?

Human brains are not wired to interpret and act upon long lists of names with appended information, such as those found in our databases and Excel spreadsheets. And when you need 50 names, but there are 300 that all have the same top score, it can be paralyzing!

Whenever I hear about data visualizations I always see pictures of charts and graphs in my mind’s eye. But when I was grappling with how to deliver a prioritized prospect list to a client recently I decided against charts and graphs. I wanted something that would give them a colorful visual with graphics, but also actual donor prospect names with dollar signs.

The organization had decided to create a more formal corporate giving program. It had been happening accidentally and now they wanted to get serious. So she sent me a list of over a thousand of their best donors based on giving history. My job was to sort it out and send it back.

We decided to focus on two variables that we labeled engagement and gift potential. Engagement was based on RFM scoring, which stands for recency, frequency, and monetary and represents a giving history analysis. We also appended some estimated sales and other data to determine gift potential.

As you can see from the picture below, the key to the data visualization was limiting the presentation two only two, easily understood and highly relevant variables. (The information in the grid is fictional.)

Click to enlarge

Following is how you “read” the picture for this donor list:

  • Stars = high engagement, high gift potential
  • Loyal = high engagement, low gift potential
  • Opportunities = low engagement, high gift potential
  • Likes = low engagement, low gift potential

I knew that my client, a talented fundraising professional, really wanted to begin her efforts with a fighting chance of receiving major gifts in the first year. Who wouldn’t want that? It was up to me as a researcher to understand how to translate the organization’s fundraising program intentions into data points, create or get those data points, and then translate it back into fundraising actions.

My client didn’t need to understand exactly how I sorted and filtered to assign donor prospects into each of these categories. She needed to be able to recognize some names, be pleased and surprised to see some names she didn’t recognize, and be able to quickly make decisions about which ones she will call tomorrow.

No matter what kind of fundraising professional you are – front-line, prospect research, or something in between – you now have a simple way to visualize two variables that you can ask for or apply to the data yourself.

If you have a data visualization triumph I’d love to hear about it! Reply to this email or better yet, comment on the blog post.

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Organization Loses Donor Trust – With Data Breach!

keyboard-895556_1920Whether it’s a personal story or a media headline, we’ve all heard of incidents where data was mishandled or misunderstood and donors felt betrayed. And yet, many development and advancement offices continue to place little value on their information and data.
When I followed up with one of the beta testers for the Prospect Research Institute’s first-ever online class, Introduction to Prospect Profiles, she told me how thankful she was for the opportunity to take the class. Now she knew for certain that prospect research was NOT for her and she would seek a different career. Why? She couldn’t delve into other people’s lives that much. Privacy was sacred to her.
I didn’t think too much of it, but since then two more students have expressed discomfort about privacy issues. Because, of course, we cover this in the class; we walk right out there to examine the legal and ethical edges of privacy in fundraising research.
Why are prospective prospect research professionals nervous about privacy?
Could it be they don’t trust organizations to do the right thing with information? You know fundraising is predicated on trust – donors trust us to use their money for the greater good. Staff must also trust the organization to use its data and resources appropriately.
When prospect research is treated as a clerical function, anyone can do it, low-paid, and not heard – that translates to the same message about the information prospect research finds. Quite a few of my course participants are self-paid. And then they learn how deep we researchers can go. And then they see the dark edges of ethics. And they get uncomfortable.

If you are in the development or fundraising office, you are in a position to begin changing the culture of respect and trust toward your organization’s data.

You can leverage prospect research to (a) manage information legally and ethically, (b) lead with diversity and inclusion, and (c) use data persuasively to raise more money. How? Let me count the ways!
  1. Data Management: Prospect Research Professionals are uniquely positioned to research and be a part of the team creating information management policies that ensure your data is used and maintained effectively. This is the era of Big Data and your researcher is versed in mining the gold from it.
  2. Data Protection:The more important data becomes, the higher the risk that it will be breached and erode your donors’ faith in your organization’s ability to protect their information. Your prospect research professional is your trusted guide, helping you to navigate and translate vendor and IT products and jargon. S/he is also the voice helping you to create different levels of data access, such as who can print profiles, with how much information in them, and do what with them.
  3. Non-Traditional Donors: We’ve been using wealth screenings effectively, but it’s time to recognize that this identification method is limited. Encourage your researcher to work with you to identify non-traditional indicators of wealth. That means conversations, but it also means assigning and actively pursuing those minority prospects, too. If there is wealth there, why are you ignoring them?
  4. Relationship Mapping: This is a broad term for what requires a great deal of sweat equity, but software is inching forward to make it better and faster. Understanding the relationships among your major gift donors could be a healthy disruption to your usual processes. Understanding and learning to leverage the power of your other donor groups’ relationships could transform your organization’s fundraising reach! If you are not building the capacity for fundraising analytics to discover patterns such as these relationships, you will be left behind.
  5. Persuade with Data: Yes, you can work with your prospect research professional to illustrate the data that answers questions and use this to persuade donors to give. Infographics are particularly popular. But let’s use data to put a stop to fickle fundraising. How many times do you change strategies based on “I feel” or “s/he said” or “they say”? Use your prospect research professional’s analytical prowess to methodically gather data of all kinds to help leadership form a strategy it can stick to – and win. Jason Briggs outlines this brilliantly in his article on international research.
I’ve had clients learn the hard way. Initially shocked by my prices, they come back when they receive shoddy work from someone who has low rates, but lacks the skills and resources. The value of really good prospect research becomes clear when you receive synthesized information that gives you direction to raise more money.
Your organization needs a well-trained prospect research professional with an excellent ethical compass. Are you driving your best hiring prospects away by sending the message that information is cheap and anyone can turn that information into fundraising action?

Warning! Anyone can do analytics.

colorfulTwo of the strongest characteristics prospect research professionals have in common is insatiable curiosity combined with a surprising boldness. We are proudly generalists! And very good at it too.

I was inspired by a visit to the Philadelphia Museum of Art in September where an APRA Pennsylvania member shared how she fearlessly tackled fundraising analytics to upgrade the organization’s major gift prospect pools.

Suzanne Harris is a Research Analyst and her supervisor is Sarah Cadbury, Director of Prospect Research and Management. A new researcher, in 2014 Suzanne was a successful student of the Prospect Research Institute’s inaugural Introduction to Prospect Profiles course. When she joined the Philadelphia Museum of Art she jumped right into a campaign and the prospect identification and tracking that goes along with that.

Sarah had created a campaign rating – the amount a specific prospect was anticipated to give – as a way of sorting and compiling the campaign gift table. They also had external vendor ratings, including a capacity rating from 2014. As discussions swirled around segmenting prospects effectively it became clear to Suzanne that a score based on internal data was needed.

At a previous organization Suzanne had read Joshua Birkholz’ book, Fundraising Analytics: Using Data to Guide Strategy, and had become interested in creating an RFM (Recency, Frequency, Monetary) score, but she hadn’t quite figured out how to adapt the book’s method to their constituency.

At the Philadelphia Museum of Art she was using the Raiser’s Edge donor database. Raiser’s Edge provided summary financial data, which was exactly what she needed to calculate RFM.

But still, Suzanne struggled with how to make it come together for the Museum. She began having conversations internally with database/IT folks. She emphasized how the RFM data would be used and why that was important.

She attended an APRA conference where she heard Joshua Birkholz talk about the value of fundraising analytics. Upon returning to the office she read her notes out loud, verbatim, to persuade people of the importance of a score like RFM.

Then, finally, it all came together in one meeting. Suzanne sat down for about an hour and half with an internal database guru and they worked out how the RFM could be automatically calculated using an intermediary Access database. They cherry-picked the data points most relevant to the Museum and created the scores based on them.

Suzanne’s “I can do anything” generalist attitude, combined with her ability to boldly persuade others of the importance of an internal score had resulted in success!

Marcy Serkin, Deputy Director of Development for Development Operations, suggested they roll out the RFM scores with a party. So they did. The party was an inclusive, all-staff party. People who had no idea of what ratings were learned about them. They threw the party on a Monday because the Museum is closed on Mondays and the gift officers are usually in the office.

Much like any other product launch party, they introduced RFM with a theme, fun activities, and education. Inspired by the art of Lisa Frank, they chose a colorful rainbow and unicorn theme.

Data Mining: Because Unicorns Don’t Find Themselves.

They created custom stickers and let people “taste the rainbow” with Skittles candy. They played a game, too, where everyone had cards with RFM scores. The last three people standing – the unicorns in the room – all had high scores and were not assigned to a gift officer. Their prize was a swipe at the unicorn piñata!

Suzanne is not a statistician or a data scientist. She is a prospect research professional. A generalist!

She used her prospect research knowledge to persuade others about the importance of internal scoring and to collaborate with her to create and launch the scoring so that it could have a positive impact on the campaign – and even beyond the campaign to annual fund and planned giving.

Suzanne is a prospect research hero! You can be, too. Be confident in your skills and boldly persuade others to use research effectively for fundraising.

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Fire your Prospect Researcher! Artificial Intelligence (AI) has arrived.


For years now we’ve been told that Artificial Intelligence was going to take over prospect research tasks. Truth is, it has. Well, some of them anyway.

Consider wealth screenings. What used to take month after month of tedious, routine, baseline capacity rating work now takes less than an hour. Upload your file, it processes, and presto! You have gift capacity ratings on your prospects based on external wealth matches.

Or how about the user-friendly lookup tools, such as iWave’s PRO, that remove the first step of searching that prospect research professionals used to perform?

Does all of this mean prospect research is on the fast track for complete takeover by the machines? Should you fire your researcher? No way!

Artificial Intelligence has had a lot of hype over the years and very little real action – until now. A few events have led to some breakthroughs:

  • The internet has made vast amounts of data available, which can be used to train computers.
  • Graphical Processing Units (GPUs), the specialized chips used in PCs and video-game consoles to generate graphics, have been applied to the algorithms used in deep learning, a type of Artificial Intelligence.
  • Capacity to run GPUs can be rented from cloud providers such as Amazon and Microsoft, allowing start-ups to innovate.

Self-driving cars may still be on the horizon, but the bots are on the road already! They can schedule appointments on your calendar, draft replies to emails, and even read radiology imaging studies more accurately than a radiologist. The Economist describes the opportunity and threat quite succinctly as follows:

 “What determines vulnerability to automation is not so much whether the work concerned is manual or white-collar, but whether or not it is routine.” (6/25/2016)






It’s easy to leap to the conclusion that prospect research professionals will lose their jobs to the machine – much of what we researchers do is routine – but that would be forgetting how machines have changed the world in the past.

Across the centuries, people have feared the march of the machines. In the late 1700’s to early 1800’s the Industrial Revolution rocked our world. As recently as the 1980’s, the rise of personal computers revolutionized the way we work. And with every introduction, much hand-wringing and predictions of unemployment were had.

How will prospect research professionals likely weather the advancing army of machine algorithms and programs?

Much the same as we adapted to wealth screenings and tools like iWave’s PRO. We learn new skills that wrap around the new technology. We leverage the new technology to work for us and for our fundraising team. We change the tasks we perform.

Prospect research professionals have a unique blend of skills. We can scan mountains of information and pull it together in a way that is meaningful for your specific need, whether that is creating a $5M gift strategy or a $5B campaign. We recognize the opportunities for our organizations in the data patterns the machine discovers.

If you want your organization to keep in step with the advances of machine learning, do NOT fire your researcher! Instead, reassure your prospect research professional of her value and insist that she take advantage of training that will give her the skills to use new technology. If you do this, she will be better able to guide you into new worlds, such as fundraising analytics … and beyond!

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The Devil’s in the Data! When should you get an audit?

binary-503598_1280Guest post by Darrel Spacone

Stop and think about the health of the data in your donor database.  When was the last time any cleaning or maintenance was done? Is it part of a normal routine?

We all run into situations on an almost daily basis that scream “Dirty Data”, “Duplicate Data”, “Useless Data”, etc.  But what are you doing about it? Do you know what to do or how to do it?  There are always issues with data that will creep up over and over again until they are addressed.

Your donor database is highly complicated and detailed. Over the course of time, how many staff and volunteers, with different skill sets, have been allowed to edit your data in some way and contribute to the less than stellar shape that it is in?

Most organizations face the same issues, but how they deal with or ignore them separates them. An audit is the starting point to finding out exactly what and how much is amiss, addressing it, and then making maintenance and cleaning part of your normal routine.

In my career I have had direct experience with wearing many hats and having heavy workloads thrust upon me as a nonprofit employee. Sometimes there is little or no time to navigate the data trail, finding and fixing common, glaring issues.

You know or suspect you have problems, but how and when can you tackle it?

If you don’t have someone on staff with the expertise to clean up your donor database, consider hiring a consultant to provide you with an audit. An audit will identify what you are doing right, what is going wrong, and what steps you need to take to get back on track.

So, when should you get an audit?  NOW of course!

Following are some of the benefits of an audit:

  • Mailings: An audit will expose missing titles, names, addresses, addressees, salutations.  Are you mailing to or soliciting minors? What about your service area or state? Do you target solicitations to certain counties? Is the county field populated?
  • Duplicate records: Do you have the same person with multiple records?  Are they necessary?  Are you mailing to spouses or other household members separately? Should you?
  • Duplicate addresses: Every time you add a new, preferred address, are you checking the address tab?
  • Merged records: Duplicate information can be copied over during this process.
  • Security: Are you lazy when it comes to security?  Does everyone have the same access regardless of their job function and capabilities?  Often this is the single largest problem and causes the most damage.
  • Deceased constituents: Are you mailing to or soliciting dead people? Have you overlooked the surviving spouse?
  • Record archiving: How long do you solicit a prospect? How long has the record been in the system without any activity?  Do you know how to keep your history, but remove from your mailings?

Data underpins all of your development efforts from gift acknowledgement, invitations, prospect identification, stewardship and beyond. When your data becomes a tangled web, your ability to fundraise suffers. Donors are not thanked and renewed. Major gift opportunities are lost forever. When you add up the losses incurred from bad data, the return on investment in your data skyrockets.

The Devil’s in the data! Make it Good.

darrel.spaconeAbout Darrel Spacone, bCRE
Darrel Spacone is the Chief Information Officer at Donor-Data-Done, LLC, a Blackbaud Certified Raiser’s Edge Consulting firm. With thirteen years of experience with Raiser’s Edge, he has helped healthcare, arts, child welfare and social services organizations identify problems and fix their donor databases. He provides audits and solutions, so that you can focus on your day-to-day tasks without missing a beat, saving you time and money while you are raising money.
Connect with Darrel:

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Score! takes the edge off analytics

I just read Score! cover to cover and here’s why I think you should too…

With Score! Peter Wylie and Kevin MacDonell have written a highly accessible book that works effectively as a beginner’s guide to driving your organization’s decision-making with fundraising analytics. It’s no surprise to those of us in the prospect development field. Peter has been writing entertaining and informative books and articles for years and Kevin’s CoolData blog is encouraging and full of easy-to-understand visuals. Both of them write about personal experiences that nicely demonstrate the ideas and concepts in the book.

This is not a do-it-yourself manual. Peter did that already with his book Data Mining for Fund Raisers. This book is for leadership and for aspiring analysts alike who want a guide to getting something great to happen. No-one feels like a fool for not knowing how analytics works (or even how to define it) and although Peter calls out leadership’s common foibles, an ambitious leader can easily swallow that pill because it helps him navigate past the pitfalls.

The book is conveniently grouped into three sections so you can decide what you want to read. Part one, Becoming a Data-Driven Organization, discusses how analytics can help you make decisions that lead to success. Part two, Your Data Driven Job, discusses what it’s like to pursue analytics in your prospect development career. Part three is devoted to case studies.

Part one launches with scenarios that are happening in advancement offices every day, but when highlighted in a short paragraph make one blush with embarrassment. You also get great information on obstacles you are likely to encounter as you seek to invest in analytics and a helpful discussion about whether to hire someone new or train an existing employee.

One of the salient points made in the book from start to finish is that fundraising analytics is all about valuing affinity – the relationship someone has with your organization. Wealth ratings and other external data is nice, but only works really well when paired with affinity. The wealth screening companies have drowned the marketplace with sales, advertising, and educational content that does not shine such a bright spotlight on using analytics to find and leverage the conversation your prospects and donors are having with your organization as recorded in your databases. Score! gets you back on track.

If you are facing the challenge of clueless leadership that does not value data, then this first section falls a bit short. Given Peter’s years of consulting I was hoping for a few guerrilla tactics and approaches to persuading leadership that analytics is the new, shiny object every leader has to use. Instead the authors give us brief vignettes of some of the good stories where leaders model the kind of behavior that encourages analytics efforts to succeed.

Part two is where the aspiring analyst gets some very thoughtful and perceptive advice about the skills needed to take on these kinds of tasks. By including a chapter on soft skills, and putting it first, there is a clear message. You can be awesome at analyzing data, but unless you can translate your results into information others can use and understand, you are not likely to achieve success. Kevin’s CoolData blog is a living example of good and useful presentation. As a bonus, Kevin and Peter share their personal stories on how they came to analyze nonprofit data for a living.

Part two also has some gems that surprised me and made me think more deeply. Although I have been using the term fundraising analytics as an umbrella term here, Kevin and Peter give you an education about the difference between data mining and analytics. You also get some terms and techniques defined – a few fundamentals. But don’t worry! The authors walk you through some step-by-step starter tasks. The highlighted quote is just one of many that should assure you that you won’t break anything by trying.

“Don’t let missing, incomplete, or suspect data stop you from jumping right in and trying to work with it just as it is.” (p.91)

Part three is a series of case studies. As the authors emphasize, these are not do-it-yourself instructions. They are case studies that illustrate the types of questions you might ask your data and some answers others have found. Kevin and Peter do a great job here of outlining the steps they took and then going into detail about what happened as a result. These case studies will give you big picture ideas to guide you as you craft your own projects. They are helpful to leadership too because they demonstrate winning applications.

In particular I was intrigued by the call center data case studies. And, of course, just a few days after reading the book a fundraising colleague described to me how she does not give to her alma mater and will not give to them, yet they have been calling, emailing and writing her repeatedly each year. She just rolls her eyes.

A huge shift is just beginning to happen as younger generations earn and accumulate income and wealth in an era of rapid changes in information technology that is creating new and changing expectations for communicating. The popular LifeHacker blog wrote a recent post with this title: How Can I Donate to Charity Without Getting Harrassed By Them Later?

It will be those organizations that listen to the conversations in their data and respond to them that will win those donors’ trust…and dollars. Score! is written about analytics in higher education, but the lessons apply equally to human services organizations. Don’t miss out. Buy, read and Score!

Don’t believe me? Read what Susan Bridgers of APRA Carolinas has to say about it!

Want to catch up on the most current buzz? Search the Twitter hashtag: #scorethebook

Data Mining Resources

I was poking around to see what I might find on the internet and thought I would share my favorite finds related to data mining. I hope you enjoy them too!

Five ways to promote in-house data mining
by Kevin MacDonell

5 reasons every nonprofit should use analytics for fundraising
by Joshua Birkholz

From Stories to Evidence: How Mining Data Can Promote Innovation in the Nonprofit Sector
by Technology Innovation Management Review

Fundraising Analytics ABCs
by Helen Brown

The Do’s and Don’ts of Data Mining in Nonprofit Fundraising
by Daniel Neel

Getting Started in Data Mining (It's easier than you think!)

I have had a few requests for articles on simple data mining techniques and the related database maintenance necessary to make the results meaningful. Look for my upcoming companion blog post on data mining resources, too.

Before we get started, let’s talk a little bit about what might be holding us back.

  • Fear that it’s too complicated – Not much anyone can do about this one, except you. Jump in! The water is warm!
  • Assumptions that leadership will not invest and support it – Data mining and analytics are keyword candy to leadership. Leadership loves to get intelligent answers to questions like “What percent of donors rated at $100K+ gave at that level?”
  • No clear understanding of the pain/need/goal – What keeps your leadership awake at night? Is it prospect pools that don’t perform? Finding leadership donors for the upcoming campaign? If you don’t know, you can’t make a compelling case for data mining.

Donor Database Reports

Do you remember that scene in the Sound of Music where Maria is trying to teach the von Trapp children to sing? She stops singing “Do-Re-Mi” and says, “Oh, let’s see if I can make it easier”. We can do that in data mining too. (I haven’t come up with a song yet, but I’m working on it.) Here is an easy and fun way to get started in data mining – explore all the canned reports in your donor database. I’m not kidding! Even if you have no idea what deep, insightful questions you want to answer, you can begin with reports.

Consider these common reports:

  • Consecutive years giving – When donors give many years, especially consecutively, it usually means they really like us. Who are these people? Do they have high wealth ratings? Could they be good planned gift prospects?
  • Top donors – Are all of your top-giving donors getting regular attention?
  • LYBUNT, SYBUNT, & new donors – Within these reports you might find donors capable of increasing their gift, some major gift sleepers, and some new donors with wealth.
  • Lifetime giving and number of years giving – So many forgotten donors can be found in this list as well as some very good planned gift prospects.

Digging a Little Deeper

MS Excel is on most of your desktops. If you take a little time to learn to use it – I’m not talking complicated formulas, just tips and tricks – it will truly open the world of data mining to you. Imagine that you pull a report into Excel with all of the key fields in the above reports (last gift date and amount, largest gift date and amount, lifetime giving, etc.). Add in wealth ratings if you have them.

Now consider this scenario:

Custom sort:  First by largest gift amount (descending), second by lifetime giving (descending), third by last gift date (descending)

Analysis:  By scrolling down the list you can see if any donors who have made larger gifts (largest gift amount) and have lapsed (last gift date). Is there some high lifetime giving low on the list? Why?

Imagine sorting first by wealth rating and then largest gift. How about lifetime giving and wealth rating? This is fun! (I told you the water was warm.) Just be sure to watch your time. Prospect researchers have gotten lost in the data mining game.

The Secret Data Mining Trick

The secret trick to analyzing your donor information is to understand your fundraising fundamentals. Remember the fundraising pyramid?

The pyramid illustrates your areas of opportunity:

  • Occasional: Did that first-time $1,000 donor get personal attention?
  • Annual: Are there small annual gift planned giving prospects in there?
  • Annual: Can we motivate annual donors to move up a giving level?
  • Major: Do any of your major gift donors have unexplored planned gift potential?
  • Planned: Are there any planned gift donors who could make a cash gift?

Common Data Errors that Under-Mine Your Efforts (pun intended)

Now that you have the idea that you can sort on specific fields in your donor database, you will very soon realize that even sorting becomes problematic if the data is full of errors and omissions. Use your blossoming interest in data mining to clean up the database! Then when you are ready for more complicated data mining challenges, your data will be ready for you.

  • Data errors in any of the fields you pull – e.g., incorrect or missing dates or dollar values
  • Duplicate records – often happens in gift entry or multiple hands in the database
  • Deceased or bad address – if you don’t mail to your list, you probably aren’t getting your list cleaned; if you are mailing, you might not be getting a file back from the printer to update the records

What can you do about problems like these? People don’t usually like to hear this, but you need some documentation.

  • Your database probably has some maintenance reports. Set up a schedule to run them and fix the errors.
  • Do you need to run a report of all changed records daily or weekly?
  • Gift entry staff should be trained to search for the donor name first, instead of entering a new record. As in, create your own training manual for how gift entry is performed in your organization.
  • Someone should review all gifts entered, probably daily.

Robert Weiner is a consultant with some excellent free articles about keeping your database up to snuff. You can find his articles here: http://www.rlweiner.com/articles

Taking Data Mining to the Next Level

Once you have your data in order, some understanding about how the information is stored, how you can retrieve it, and what kinds of things it can tell you about your donors and prospects, I suspect you will be a lot more likely to sign up for that data mining webinar or take advantage of the APRA Analytics Symposium. It feels good to be ready, doesn’t it?

Making Analytics Accessible to All

In “Geek Philanthropy: Data Huggers”, the Economist (10/20/2012) tells the story of DataKind, an organization dedicated to using data analytics to help nonprofits. As the Economist points out, businesses are actively using advanced analytics to improve their efficiency. Nonprofit organizations have lots of data too, but usually not so much money. Could the benefits of data analysis – improved program and fundraising outcomes – be within your organization’s reach?

According to their website, DataKind organizes three distinct efforts to share analytics with nonprofits:

  • DataDive™ – a weekend event that teams three selected social organizations that have well-defined data problems with volunteer data scientists to tackle their data challenges. These events are completely free and voluntary and serve to energize the base, provide direct services to organizations, and to enlighten social sector groups to the power of using data in their programs.
  • DataCorps™ – a select group of data scientists who work on volunteer or contract data projects part-time. These members work for one to six months on targeted data projects that they flesh out with the organizations that apply. Our volunteers are paid by the organization or are housed within private companies who take on the projects (e.g. Google gives 20% time to three scientists for a month to execute a project).
  • In-House Data Staff – We maintain a full-time staff of data scientists that take on the most pressing and high-impact problems for a variable length of time. These full-time employees are paid directly for their services by the organizations involved.

The Economist described a DataDive, affectionately called a “hackathon”, in San Francisco. DataKind volunteers analyzed the data from Mobilising Health, a non-profit group that connects rural patients in India with doctors in far-away cities via cell phone. Among other things, DataKind helped Mobilising Health to take more account of urgency and to direct requests to the most responsive doctors.

Improving efficiencies and outcomes of an organization’s programs using a dataset like the cell phone records and text messages was great for all involved. The organization received the results, plus the ability to better track and respond to information going forward. The data scientists worked on a project that challenged their skills and taught them new skills.

We might call Mobilising Health a very “ripe” subject for data analysis. They had an organized, well recorded set of data. Thank you cell phone companies! But what about organizations that are offering after school programs or programs at domestic abuse shelters? And what about fundraising operations?

Notice that the only free service DataKind offers is the hackathon weekend for “well-defined data problems” such as Mobilising Health. What do we know about the majority of nonprofit organizations? If the information is even recorded, the data is often “dirty” and leadership unaware of what types of problems data analysis can help them solve. The potential for improved mission performance through data analysis is exciting and very, very real! But so is the underwhelming enthusiasm for data collection and maintenance.

Not all of us are born as philanthropy geeks and for many people, the care and maintenance of data is about as thrilling as watching grass grow. But understanding the value and potential of data collection – significantly improved mission outcomes – is pretty glamorous.

When it comes to fundraising, Joshua Birkholz wrote a very friendly read – Fundraising Analytics – for the Wiley/AFP Fund Development Series. The most important part of the book is the beginning where he talks about translating your fundraising goals into questions that can be answered with data. Once you understand what it is you want to know, recording, maintaining and analyzing the data can be done by others. Maybe even a DataKind hackathon crew!

Prospect research professionals are your neighborhood philanthropy geeks. We help you translate your goals into questions and translate your questions in data recording and reporting. The ability to monitor your fundraising performance and react to external and internal donor trends can lead to impressive dollars raised – and transform your ability to perform your mission.

Have you worked with a friendly neighborhood philanthropy geek today?

About the Author

Jen Filla is president of Aspire Research Group LLC where she works with organizations worried about finding their next big donor, concerned about what size gift to ask for, or frustrated that they aren’t meeting their major gift goals.

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3 Steps to Major Gift Mojo!

Not infrequently fundraisers want to talk to me about finding major gift prospects who are outside of the donor database. Often they have been asking the same group of donors and need to expand their reach.

Too frequently I find out that they have not screened or mined their own donor database for good prospects! Screenings come with a price tag that can be hefty for some and getting management to invest often requires some educated persuasion.

Consider the following plan for jump-starting your fundraising confidence and creating results you can demonstrate to management.

Phase One

  • Pull a list of your top lifetime donors and start calling and visiting to thank them
    • They will be mucho flattered because many will not be wealthy and the lifetime giving will be a significant number. They all make great planned giving prospects
  • Pull a list of your one or two-year lapsed donors by lifetime giving and largest gift
    • Schedule visits with any excuse: wanted to recognize your lifetime contributions with a chatke; wanted you to meet our new CEO; wanted to thank you and tell you about new initiatives you made possible.
  • Consider asking your gift entry/database administrator to make some thank you calls to top-end annual fund donors
    • Pick a list of people similar to your employee to make it easy to relate
    • Already too busy? Make one phone call a day
    • Success in a new task is invigorating! Expect your employee grow

Phase Two

Do not just pull lists…

Pick a concrete time-period – say three months – and blitz call and visit. Every. Single. Day. Especially if you haven’t done much visiting in the past! You will have friendly, feel-good visits that will build your confidence and reward your donors with the stewardship they so deserve. Any excuse for calling will do, but sincerely thanking, recognizing and telling them what their gifts have accomplished is numero uno.

Phase Three

After the designated time period, stop and evaluate. This is important. You will be amazed what your donors tell you and you will be better able to strategize your future efforts. This is where you begin rating which prospects are likely to make major gifts and you will now know how to better recognize them in your database. Check out the Aspire Research Group paper on creating a moves management system.

Looking for customized help with your donor lists? Contact Aspire Research Group today!

Work smarter, not harder. Because you’ll have your major gift mojo of course!