Tag Archives: economist

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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Who are "Asian-Americans"?

According to the Economist article, “Racial classification: All together now” published in December of 2012, the two big surprises in 2012 were that Asian-Americans outnumbered Latinos in immigrating to the U.S. and that 71% of Asian-Americans voted for President Obama in the last election – roughly equivalent to Latinos.

Fundraising organizations in the U.S. have become very interested cultivating Asian-Americans. But who are they? The largest subgroup are Chinese-Americans, but they represent just 23% of Asian Americans. As a group, Asian-Americans are wealthier and better educated than other groups including whites. But the differences run deep including different religions and very different languages.

According to the Economist, only 19% of Asian-Americans use the term to describe themselves. Not too surprisingly, many second-generation Asian-Americans (median age of 17 years) are okay with the term and less concerned about their heritage. What is surprising and a bit revealing is that in some cases, Asian-Americans can unite as a much larger group and demand attention and power in civic life.

If you are considering different fundraising strategies that involve pursuing specific ethnic groups like Asian-Americans, this is a reminder that some of the names we assign to ethnic groups are purely inventions that may not resonate with those individuals. When considering donor motivations, passions and priorities, targeting such a diverse group as Asian-Americans is not likely to be effective. You will need to get more specific. Doing the research on your donors’ communities to discover how they interact within them is critical to creating and executing a strategy that focuses on a specific group.

Prospect research is always important, but when you are looking to reach out to new ethnic groups with ties to their home countries, prospect research takes on a different flavor. We need to discover more than what we can learn about a specific individual. We need to learn how the donor prospect fits into the local community and how cultural differences affect philanthropy.

Facial Recognition Software & Donors

Does facial recognition software violate our privacy? What if we want to use it on donor prospects? The Economist wrote an article, Anonymous No More, in its 7/30/11 issue. It describes how facial recognition software has improved to the point that in the best scenarios you can feed a picture into it and discover personal information on one-third of individuals. Now, obviously, that means that two-thirds remain “anonymous”, but it does demonstrate that picture-based research is viable and will improve.

As it stands now, I start with personal information (name and address or occupation) and find my way to a matching photo. In the not-to-distant future I can imagine subscribing to software that allows me to take fundraising event photos and identify the people in them – perhaps even automatically screening them for wealth.

Now try to guess who has developed a facial recognition search engine? You guessed it! Google. But they have decided not to release it. Why? Because of the sensitivity around the subject of… [drum roll]… privacy! Now try to guess who isn’t afraid to use facial recognition. Facebook. U.S. Government. Prospect researchers? Hmmm.

Is there privacy left to care about?

It is very clear that the media likes to wheeze on about privacy (even in light of the recent Murdoch news scandals) and equally clear that most of humanity really does not care about privacy. We are happy to trade our personal information for discounts, convenience and even fun. Or are we? Mostly we are okay giving away personal information when we are asked and get something we value in return. It’s when we get duped, fooled, or humiliated that our hair stands on end. And I am grateful to the journalists who report on those abuses.

When does privacy really matter?

If your donors feel that their privacy has been compromised by you they will stop giving. Worse, they might start saying bad things about your organization and get others to stop giving. Privacy matters.

Having a donor privacy policy will go a long way toward helping your organization communicate its actions with donors, but it is not enough to keep you out of trouble. Common sense, empathy and good recordkeeping are required.

For example, just because you found your donor’s unlisted telephone number on her voter’s registration record doesn’t mean she won’t be offended when your president calls her asking for a visit. Was it found in the public domain – yes. Was it in the donor record as a contact number – yes. Did the donor feel her privacy was violated – YES! There are no shortcuts to establishing meaningful relationships.

Facial recognition software is most likely going to do “quiet” tasks like match faces from our organization Facebook pages or constituent forums with photos in our donor database to create deeper relationship maps. That’s not nearly as scintillating as using event photos to identify wealthy prospects, is it? But it is more efficient and respectful.

More info on ethics and privacy:

Aspire Research Group’s Ethics Video
Letter to Board Members on Privacy and Prospect Research
APRA Statement of Ethics
AFP Code of Ethical Principles and Standards

Raising Money for the Arts – with Crowdfunding

Never heard of crowdfunding? Me either. But it’s raising millions from tiny gifts for artists around the world. The September 4, 2010 issue of the Economist featured a story, “Putting your money where your mouse is” that described the crowdfunding phenomenon quite clearly. People’s comments on the article were even more illuminating.

Going beyond social media and “tip jars” on websites, crowdfunding takes advantage of both of those methods to fund creative works through a defined dollar goal, within a specific time. If the minimum amount is not raised, no funds are collected. Interesting, huh?

Let’s say I need seed funding to create a documentary about the dynamics of homelessness in Tampa Bay, Florida. Using an intermediary like Kickstarter, IndieGogo or Sellaband (yes, they collect a fee), I create a campaign to raise $5,000 minimum within six months. I promote the campaign on my website, Facebook, Twitter, MySpace and anywhere else I have built a fan following. Once I reach $5,000 committed I can keep raising money until the time limit. Funds successfully raised for projects have ranged from under $5,000 to as much as $200,000.

The reality is that the funds raised many times do not meet the full project funding needed. Most projects have grant or other funding secured as well. What crowdfunding does is give artists the social leverage they need to secure additional funding and give their fans the chance to be a part of the creation.

Fans getting the opportunity to be part of the creation. Wow! Doesn’t that sound familiar? C’mon! Let’s re-phrase that into language familiar to the fundraiser. Donors getting the opportunity to be part of the campaign. Hah! Now that I’ve got you on that thought-train, doesn’t it highlight how important it is to start with our donors when we are looking to raise funds? They have already given to us, they like us, and they want to help.

Helping fundraisers prioritize the donors in their databases is a service Aspire Research Group is proud to offer its clients. Sometimes we get so excited about the big dollars we hear in the news we forget that there is gold right inside of our own well-nurtured donor base, just waiting to be called upon. Call on yours today!

Can business learn from your organization?

In early July the YMCA announced a name change to “the Y”. Following for-profit protocol they spent two years of analysis before launching their re-branding strategy. The Economist wrote an article titled “Profiting from non-profits” suggesting that sometimes the learning might flow best in the opposite direction – from non-profits to for-profits.

So many non-profits do an incredibly good job of growing deep relationships with all of their constituents – recipients, employees and donors. My job as a prospect researcher is such a joy because everything I do is about bringing donors and prospects closer to the organization. Not so many for-profits operate with such a successful emphasis on all of their relationships.

So tell me, what could the for-profit world learn from your organization?

Data dust is gold dust for Google

The February 27, 2010 edition of the Economist has a special report on managing information. Wow! I love the way the Economist pulls together their reports. I know that Amazon tracks what I’m browsing and offers me suggestions. I know that Facebook tracks posts and comments on fan pages. I know Google offers me alternatives when I misspell words. But I DID NOT know just how lucrative all this data dust is and how deep it goes.

As it turns out, Google didn’t just develop a spell-check, it spent several million dollars over 20 years using all the misspellings users type into a search window and then “correct” by clicking on the right result. All that dust I create when I type badly is being used by Google to create a competitive edge! And now Google is developing translation and voice recognition services using the same approach.

Even more curious about Google is that it does not have to own the data to benefit. The report mentions Google’s foray into electronic medical records suggesting that it might be able to use the data to accurately predict things like flu outbreaks. BUT users retain ownership and could take their records out of the system any time they want to.

It makes me wonder how fundraisers can use giving data “dust” to create better experiences for our donors and financially stronger organizations. Wouldn’t it be lovely if we don’t need to own sensitive data about our donors, just use its dust to give us predictors!