Tag Archives: strategy

Pictures and Patterns: Decision-making with Fundraising Insights

Imagine you emerge from a strategic planning session and your task is to raise more money from corporations. Your organization wants to expand its reach and you need to take the thousands of corporate donors in the database and transform them into a fundraising program. Why? Because everyone “feels” like there is a lot of opportunity there. Where do you start?

One of the most common mistakes in fundraising is to make decisions and invest money and resources in strategies that are based on intuition and anecdotal evidence alone. Let’s face it, sometimes it works, and maybe that’s why the behavior is so persistent. But much of the time data-weak decisions fail miserably, often slowly and painfully with lots of fingers pointed. There is a better way.

Leverage the talents of prospect research to paint pictures and identify patterns!

Well-trained prospect research professionals are methodical and analytical. That means that we enjoy solving problems, untangling messy information, and putting order to chaos. Share with us your dilemmas, your problems …your fundraising hopes and dreams. We can help you succeed!

In the new corporate fundraising program example, it means painting a picture of our corporate donors:

  • Where are they located?
  • How many of them are there and at what giving levels?
  • How long have they been donors?
  • Are they small, closely held companies, or large corporations?

And then identifying clusters and patterns:

  • Are there groups of donors in particular industries, geographic locations, or company size?
  • Do the donors that give the most and most frequently have anything in common?
  • Is there anything about the data that can help us understand the giving behaviors? Can we see any correlations between data points?

There is no standard checklist for exploring this kind of information. It requires a keen understanding of the fundraising being undertaken matched with an analytical mind trained in using data to solve problems.

When a prospect research professional works with you to explore your data and make an initial assessment, you can decide on strategies and tactics that will raise the most money now and in the future.

For example, you might discover some companies are more “ripe” for a new approach than others. If they have been giving frequently and increasing their giving, visiting them and discovering their philanthropic needs might uncover a unique corporate approach for your organization that you hadn’t thought of!

Knowing that your best donors are dominated by small, closely held companies gives you the opportunity to find out why. What makes your organization so attractive to them? Are they really individual donors in disguise or do they have company objectives for their philanthropy?

Uncovering an unusual pattern, such as expressions of faith on the company website, might give you an insight that challenges the way you perceived your donors and that opens the door to much deeper relationships.

Fundraising success through insights is not so much about the tools – data mining, statistical analysis, profile research – it’s about giving the donor story inside your data a voice.

When you hire a prospect research professional to help you understand your data, you are hiring someone with a unique skill set – someone who can uncover and communicate the “story” inside your data.

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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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To Advocate or Not to Advocate – there is no question!

advocate
“Advocate” by Nick Youngson, is licensed under Creative Commons 3 – CC BY-SA 3.0

Something big and very exciting is happening in the field of prospect research. It is at once both thrilling and terrifying, but then again, the best things in life usually are! Do you know what I am talking about? Prospect research has become the center of attention concerning the use and abuse of data in nonprofit fundraising.

The Thrilling Aspect

For years prospect research languished in basements, yearning for that exclusive seat at the leadership table. Thrillingly, prospect research professionals in the U.K. have been thrust into that seat with all the anticipation of slowly ratcheting up the roller-coaster-mountain and the subsequent terror of being dropped with a 5.5 G-force speed down the other side.
It’s official. Data is a big deal. And the guardians and operators of data in non-governmental organizations (NGOs) are prospect research professionals.
So after working long and hard behind the scenes, after advocating to fundraising leadership for the use and respect of prospect research, we have arrived at the leadership table. And my, what an entrance we have made!

The Terrifying Aspect

In the U.K., the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) has been fining charities for violations of the Data Protection Act 1998. The fines have ranged from a low of £9,000 to a high of £25,000. The IOC has done a lot of interpretation of the Data Protection Act 1998, and has surprisingly used emotional language.
The fines include best practices in prospect research such as the following:
Is this the end of prospect research in the U.K.? I doubt it. There will be changes as NGOs adapt their data and privacy policies to carefully reflect their fundraising practices. Some NGOs will even seize this as an opportunity to share their fundraising “data story” with the public.

New Perspective Fueled by Advocacy

After this terrifying plunge, the interpretation of the Data Protection Act 1998 by the ICO may shift as NGOs, fundraisers, prospect researchers, donors, and other constituents react and lend their voices to the conversation. For example, the Institute of Fundraising issued a report, Good Asking, exploring why charities research and process supporter information.
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On the other side of the Atlantic Ocean, instead of a tightening of data privacy, the U.S. has been experiencing a loosening of data privacy. On April 3, 2017, President Trump repealed a set of privacy regulations requiring “internet service providers to request authorization before selling sensitive customer data to advertisers, or using that same information for marketing campaigns.” (Click for article)

What Can You Do? Advocate!

Whether you are in the U.K., the U.S., or any other country, we prospect research professionals are most often the guardians and operators of fundraising data in our organizations. We may have little or no leadership authority (yet), but that doesn’t mean we can’t advocate for our profession and for solid data practices – before we find ourselves the subject of unflattering news headlines.
It’s easy to say we should advocate, but what might that look like in real life? Following are three steps to help you advocate effectively:
  1. Define the change you desire. Just as in goal setting, clearly defining the change you want to effect is important. Are you advocating for the creation of a data privacy policy, or are you advocating for your prospect research position or department?
  2. Determine your strategy. Strategy comes before tactics. Who needs to be persuaded to make change happen? Where are the obstacles to the change you seek?
  3. Craft your tactics. Tactics are the kinds of actions you take to fulfill your strategy and effect change.
Consider the story of Suzanne Harris at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. It is a classic case of advocacy gone right! Suzanne wanted to introduce RFM scoring. She talked up RFM scoring and quoted gurus in the field. She built a relationship with IT to create an automated score that could be refreshed. Then the Development Department threw a party for all staff, on a day fundraisers were likely to be in the office, and used games to educate and demonstrate the value of the new scores.
Advocacy isn’t just for associations or organizations with a cause. It’s something all of us do all the time. We advocate for a raise, to have dinner at a certain restaurant, or to visit somewhere special for vacation. Advocacy becomes more complex when there are more players and procedures in between the current status and the change we desire.
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Considering the level of strategic complexity we navigate when we provide insights in prospect profiles, analyze prospect portfolios, and perform data mining, we can handle advocacy!

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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

Secrets of Top-Performing Major Gift Officers

ShhhhDid you know that major gift officers who use prospect research raise more than their colleagues who go it alone? Prospect research is the secret sauce that has been helping some organizations out-perform others for years. Think about it. Can you name a higher-education fundraising powerhouse that does not employ prospect researchers? When I was working on the book, Prospect Research for Fundraisers, I had conversations with the very talented Nancy Lee, consultant and Executive Director for Donor Services at Thomas Jefferson University and Hospital in Philadelphia. She told me that fundraisers need to realize that it is the researcher who decides what goes in or stays out of a prospect profile, based on the request. Sounds kind of harsh, doesn’t it? But it fits right in with what we need most in this world of too much data – content curation. A good prospect researcher will sift through the overwhelming amount of information and give you what you need most. Or will she? The source of tension There is a natural tension between frontline fundraisers requesting prospect research and the researchers who deliver it. Requests for research are as varied as the organizations and the people within them. Requests might be emailed, left as voicemail or they might be a completed form or online request system. But even when requests are made face-to-face, there is room for misunderstanding. This causes tension. When you consider what is on the line – the success or failure of your major gift solicitation – it makes sense for you, the person talking with the donor, to take ownership of the requests you make for research. And you might be surprised how easy that can be. Two easy things you can do to get what you need 1. Be specific Any prospect researcher worth a grain of salt should be filtering prospect and donor data based on your organization’s mission, programs and overall culture. Beyond that you should be specific, regardless of what is or is not available on any form you are required to complete. By specific I mean that you should disclose what is worrying you, causing confusion, or has you excited. Let me give some examples.

  • I think she is related to the Moneybags family and could be a million+ donor!
  • I know he is a loyal donor to Knowledge University. I’m worried he has already made his stretch gift and there isn’t enough left to make a campaign leadership gift.
  • I have tried to figure out her interests, but she’s very reserved. Any clues on what might get her talking would help.

That’s not so difficult, is it? Recognizing why you decided to make the request and then clearly stating it to the researcher. If you do this you will get the information you need. Except that sometimes you still don’t get those info nuggets you were hoping for, right? It could be that your researcher needs more training, but you could try one more thing. 2. Feedback If you get a prospect profile that does not answer your questions, or that appears to be missing important stuff, take it back to the researcher and ask what happened. It might be that she could not find the information, but didn’t state that in the profile. There could be so many things going on. And the only way you’ll find out is if you ask. But you’re good at asking, right? Because it’s up to you to make the right ask to the prospect. Had any good conversations lately? It’s so easy for conversations between frontline fundraisers and prospect researchers to get negative. But I have worked with many frontline fundraisers who have helped me to help them. I love being part of the team that closes the big gift! If you have been reading this article and nodding your head the whole time because it validates what you have been doing so well already, won’t you comment and share your success? Need Help? Jen Filla helps fundraisers and researchers communicate and create process. Through Aspire Research Group she also provides organizations with outsourced prospect research. Call 727 202 3405 x700 or email jen at aspireresearchgroup.com

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Re-Wiring the Trusty Profile

There’s a bit of buzz about whether prospect research is going to get dumbed down by smart software products or if it will get lifted into the realm of strategy and management. The reality is probably a bit of both. Today I thought I’d bite off one little piece of the bigger conversation. I want to take a tried and true prospect research task – the trusty profile – and toss it up in the air to discover a new perspective on its utility and value.

Conversation Starter

Sabine Schuller jump-started the dialogue on the PRSPCT-L list-serv with an article,Is a Googlized Workplace Replacing Dedicated Competitive Intelligence Resources? Substitute “prospect research” for “competitive intelligence” and you can join in the exchange. Helen Brown did! She opined on the topic with a blog post, Prospect Research’s Strategic Advantage, suggesting that prospect researchers offer “experience, context, and strategy”. Mark Noll and Chris Mildner commented about the need for prospect research to concern itself with ROI. They told us we have to demonstrate how research translates into increased gift levels.

Can We Re-Wire the Humble Profile?

As you might have noticed, the topic has many layers of discussion points and profiles are somewhere amongst them. Can we re-wire the humble profile to make it more strategic and cost efficient? What does that mean?

I’ve heard conversations along these lines:

  • The paper profile is dead. It should all go into the database.
  • Research should be finding the basics – ability, inclination, linkage/affinity – and spend not a minute more.
  • My gift officer was struggling to connect with a prospect and I dug deep and found some nuggets of interest that helped him to solicit and receive a multi-million dollar gift.

My two cents? They are all correct! Prospect research is positioned differently at each organization depending upon the structure and culture of its fundraising operations. But sometimes people are so excited about their success with their hammer that they begin to view every problem as a nail, even if it’s a screw.

My favorite type of client to work with has no research staff and is tasked with raising million-dollar gifts. She relies on the paper profiles to give her really deep insight into what makes this prospect tick because the pressure is high to get the largest gift possible for her organization. She doesn’t hesitate to call me and question the information so she can feel confident in her ask amount.

It’s my job to know how much and what kind of detail to include.

That’s a big sentence. And it leads me to an interesting interaction I had recently with another client. We were talking about her need for corporate research. She wanted all the usual info, but they had specific strategies they were focused on for corporate prospects. My profiles are typically organized to best present the information collected, but what I was hearing was that she wanted to know exactly how to approach the company for each strategy.

So I reorganized the profile to highlight info relevant to each strategy first and then other sections to hold traditional, but necessary, information second. I did the first couple of profiles to be sure it worked and, well, it felt awkward. It took extra effort to parse the information into the right spots. I truly had to think first about the strategy and second about the information I was scanning. But it kept the profile laser-focused on what was most important to creating the cultivation and solicitation strategy. That felt good!

But, What About You and Your Office?

When deciding how much and what kind of profile types your prospect research department should be producing, I recommend engaging your fundraising staff in dialogue around these big questions:

Does everyone understand…

  • What the three main functions of prospect research areas are? (Prospect Identification or proactive, Prospect Profiling or reactive, and Relationship Management)
  • How those functions affect and support their specific specialty (events, annual fund, major and planned gifts, alumni relations, etc.)?
  • Where they fit within the strategic goals for the organization’s overall fundraising?

(Just remember that, as in search technique, less is often more. We’re not talking two weeks of training, but a simple, framework discussion.)

With everyone on the same page, now you can begin to have a discussion about things like if and when prospect research should be doing in-depth, six to twelve hour individual research profiles or who should be preparing bullet points for major gift prospects at events.

Now everyone knows where the priorities lie and how prospect research is going to be used to support them. It might not make everyone happy, but hey, happiness is a personal journey, right?

Onward to the Future!

Yes, the world is a-changing. We need to have the confidence and courage to re-engineer our services. We need to become more competitive and tie what we do to its impact on giving. And as we pursue big-picture discussions about the future of our profession, we need to recognize the diversity of our experience, context and strategies to create best practices focused on problem-solving.

With professionals like Sabine Schuller, Helen Brown, Mark Noll, Chris Mildner and You, I have no doubt we can ride these waves of changes with aplomb. I can’t wait to hear what you have to say!

Getting Real with Residential Real Estate

This post debuts the InfoSeeking4Researchers series! I decided residential real estate would provide a great conversation starter. It appears simple, but is laced with multiple perspectives depending upon organization size, skill levels, prospect capacities and more. As in, a deceptively simple topic!

I have started the conversation here, but I’m expecting you to finish it. Each conversation starter I write will be emailed to InfoSeeking 4Researchers subscribers and posted here on the InfoSeeking blog under the 4Researchers category. You can subscribe to the e-newsletter to get extra tips and resources, or follow the blog category. Wherever you read it, I encourage you to post your experiences, tips, and questions as blog comments so everyone can benefit.

Residential real estate is one of the first things we researchers look for and yet sometimes we overlook the nuanced information it can provide. I was reminded of just how much it can shape prospect strategy as I was reviewing a prospect profile with a new client… but I’m getting ahead of myself. First, let’s discuss presenting the information. Second, I’ll give an example analysis. And third, I’ll start a list of examples that I hope you will add to!

Presenting Residential Real Estate

As the years roll forward, I have moved to presenting more of my researched information in tables. It ensures that no matter who does the work, everything looks the same, and it also helps me remember the pieces we need to check for. My real estate table looks like something like this:

Property Year Valuation
[depending on the level, I might include a picture here]

1234 Best Vista Drive, Indian Shores FL 33785

  • Pinellas County Gulf-front residence; 5-bed, 4776 sq ft interior
  • Purchased in 2002 for $8 million
  • Owned by Pillsbury and Jane Dough
  • Revolving line of credit recorded in 2007 for $1 million
2013 $11 million

I choose to present an estimated market value, which I round so the end user doesn’t interpret it as an exact value.

  • Are you presenting your research in a document or does everything go directly into the database?
  • Are there places in your database to include the bullet points above that will print in a database generated profile?

A Quick Analysis

So what do I now know about Mr. and Mrs. Dough?

  • They own a big house on the beach.
  • They purchased before the real estate market tanked and paid cash (no mortgage).
  • They took out a loan during the recession, which happened to coincide with when Mrs. Dough launched her new and very successful business.

And that means…

  • They already had wealth when they bought the house and leveraged that wealth during the recession to launch a business when the business market was quiet. I’d say they likely have significant capacity.

Other examples of things I have learned through real estate

  • When the property is owned in a trust named after the prospects and listing them as trustees, I want see if the trust name on the deed record states exactly what kind of trust it is. Holding the family home in trust suggests to me that they have done some estate planning, which the gift officer will want to take into consideration.
  • One prospect held a property in trust in his name and yet he was living in a retirement home. When this was pointed out to the gift officer, he told me that he had heard the prospect’s daughter was having troubles and that this house was likely bought for her use. So it’s not likely the property is going to factor into a gift, is it? Good to know.
  • When a prospect has owned the property 10+ years and still resides in the home, even if only part-time, it suggests a different approach to life and wealth than someone who buys and sells the primary residence as often as you might sign a car lease.
  • When there is a mortgage, and especially if it is a large one, it suggests that there must be a certain amount of income to support those mortgage payments. A mortgage calculator is a handy tool to get an estimate.
  • There’s a big difference between a successful real estate investor who sits on vacant land through the downturn (because she paid cash) and one who is stuck holding vacant land (because she has debt)!

Now it’s Your Turn!

Our profession is rife with experienced, intelligent and very creative people who also share. Won’t you share too?

  • Do you have examples to share like the ones above?
  • What nuggets of info routinely gets ignored, but shouldn’t?
  • Or should we spend less time on real estate and more on something else?

Click on “Leave a Comment” below or any of the social media buttons.