Tag Archives: tracking

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.

More Resources

3 Good Reasons for a Research Request Process

Whether you work in a large office or are a solo researcher, a process for managing research requests quickly becomes important if you expect to use your time efficiently.

I’m talking about a process, not a form, for managing requests, because many offices have quite happily and successfully abandoned the notion of a form to ensure human interaction for better communication.

Besides, discussing the process allows you to piece together a system that works best for you, your team, and your organization. Discussing the process does not give you the exact steps you should take in your office, but that’s research, right?

There is rarely a predetermined path to answer a question, but there’s a method. Research is not a model airplane kit; it’s a bucket full of building blocks with some suggested projects.

I recommend creating a list of the types of research requests you receive. It might look something like this:

  • Qualification and Solicitation Profiles
  • New prospect identification
  • Suggested prospect assignments and prospect management reporting
Click to see larger

Now build a flow chart for each request type. It could be a more graphical visual or like the list pictured, but it disciplines you to think through the process. Get as detailed as is helpful. By documenting the process you can identify where you might alter it to solve a problem.

Why not create a flow chart that starts with the fundraising goal the task supports? This will help everyone on the team recognize that you are not in charge of managing the printer, but of managing critical information that will help reach the goal.

Following are three really good reasons to create a process for managing your research requests:

1. Consistent communication produces consistent behaviors.

Let’s face it. Many frontline fundraisers have never worked with a professional researcher before. Myths abound. If you want consistent behaviors from fundraisers, like providing you with complete information on a prospect, you need to consistently communicate.

Following are some ideas:

  • Create standard profile types that include items the fundraiser has identified as most important for common scenarios. Then create the request form with those standard options, but also a place for the fundraiser’s specific needs and anything that helps you better prioritize your time on the request, such as “Yes or No. I anticipate asking this prospect for a major gift this year”. It doesn’t matter if the fundraiser ever knows the form exists. It helps you remember what to ask.
  • Create the expectation that you will call before doing the work to ask additional questions. Be sure you call and ask additional questions, which could be on your request form. Before long the fundraiser might begin providing the answers before you ask!
  • Make a habit of under-promising and over-delivering. If you want the fundraiser to trust that you will get the work done on time, set your standard turnaround time so that you can deliver at least a day early. Call immediately if you expect to be delayed.

2. Measuring outcomes requires good tracking.

Your process needs to include more than receiving a request and delivering the work. What are your key performance goals? How are you providing value to the fundraising effort?

Following are some scenarios:

  • Does your CEO insist on in-depth profiles for every name that crosses her desk? Go ahead and do them, but mark the record with an action of “Profile completed” so you can pull a report that tells you total giving for each person you researched. Now at the end of the year you can present your CEO with how much money it cost (your time, subscription resources, etc.) and how much was raised as a result. Effective? Or time for a change?
  • You may be tasked with identifying and qualifying prospects for a campaign. Tag the records that were identified and your capacity rating so you can pull reports throughout the campaign to see how many of those prospects turned into donors. Make sure leadership knows without you those dollars would not have been received!
  • You know you are identifying high-capacity prospects with affinity, but the fundraisers won’t visit them. Sit down with the most ambitious, successful fundraiser. Review the capacity ratings of her prospects. Demonstrate how she could raise so much more with the new high-capacity prospects you identified. Then track her progress so she can share her secret to success (you, of course!) with the rest of the team.

3. Documentation gives you the ability to work faster and smarter.

It takes time to document your work and to track information as described above. Researchers do it (and often love it) because documentation allows us and our organizations to achieve more.

I may spend a week keeping a detailed time log to discover just how long it really does take me to perform a specific research task and how much time I spend on administrative trivia. And now when I get a flood of requests, based on my documentation I know how much I need to outsource.

Following are some typical types of documentation:

  • Cheat Sheets on how to do advanced functions in research subscriptions – because you might not use those functions every day, but they are powerful when you need them.
  • Reasoning and steps behind your most-used database reports – because when your reports require changes, you don’t want to have to start from scratch.
  • Reasoning and steps behind the way you record your researched information in the database – because you need to be consistent if you expect to do any automatic reporting.

Communicating consistently, thinking about the outcomes first and documenting tasks underpin a smooth and successful research request process.

Do you have a specific question or some great advice for researchers looking to implement or improve their request process? Please share!

Other Resources You Might Like

Three Reasons Why Research Request Forms Are a Terrible Idea

List of Prospect Research Blogs

Assert Yourself, post by Preeti Gill

Are Your Numbers Lying To You?

Whether you are a frontline fundraiser or a prospect researcher, at some point you are faced with decisions about how much time and effort to put into measuring your fundraising success. But watch out! It’s all too easy to be deceived by the numbers you measure. You might be measuring the wrong items, get the wrong numbers altogether or get slowed down with numbers that don’t move you forward.

Are you measuring the right things?

No matter what size our organization, time and resources are limited. So where do you start in your fundraising office? With your donors, of course!

We know that we need to acquire and keep donors in order to provide sustaining income to support our organization’s mission. A recent client of mine was excited to tell me that his direct mail acquisition had a high rate of return. Nice!

But where were those donors now? It turned out that he had retained 14% of them. Ouch. Measuring acquisition without measuring retention is a mistake. Be careful that your measurements tell you the whole story about your donors.

Do you have the right numbers?

As you decide what to measure, keep asking yourself if the resulting number means better fundraising. For example, it might be exciting to count the number of people attending your event as it grows, but wouldn’t dollar-raised-per-person reveal whether your goal of raising more money was met? You may have a lot of attendees, but more people do not always translate into more dollars raised.

Are your numbers slowing you down?

Take the time to think about your goals and choose measurements that will reveal whether you are reaching your goals. Most of us have goals more or less like these:

  • Acquire X number of new donors = more dollars raised
  • Retain/renew X percent of all donors = more dollars raised
  • X number new major gift prospects identified/assigned = more dollars raised
  • Raise X dollars = more dollars raised

This is a very basic description, and your office may need a more complex set of measurements. For example, you may want to track different kind of dollars raised – direct appeals, major gifts, events. But don’t get caught in the trap of measuring too many things! You want to choose the most critical elements that will move everything else forward.

For example, my client decided to measure the retention rate of all donors instead of breaking it down to the retention of new donors acquired through direct mail. With a staff of three they only have time to focus on the most important measurements.

Ask yourself, “What are the key items that will move all of our efforts forward”? Set goals and measure those items religiously.

If you try to measure too many things or perform more complex analysis all of the time, you run the risk of bogging down your fundraising energy and effort.

No matter what your fundraising role you play, your actions should result in more money raised. As fundraising leadership, you need to determine the key goals that will move everything forward. As a prospect researcher you often play the role of “data translator”, helping frontline fundraising to translate goals into measurements. No matter what your role is, always ask if the items being measured and the numbers being reviewed translate into more money raised.

How to Take Charge of Your Moves Management System

Managing Moves is a Workout!

So you want to implement a moves management system to ensure you are focusing on your best major gift prospects. Or you have a system, but you want to make it better. Good for you!

Moves Management is a Workout!
First, recognize that a moves management system is not a magical system where elves enter all your data and print reports whilst you sleep. Using a moves management system to track donor prospects is like getting physically fit – you have to workout! It requires you to:

  1. Enter information on each donor prospect record – at least:
    • Capacity rating, target ask, prospect stage, affinity/propensity
  2. Record your visits – you want to be sure:
    • Outcomes met the purpose
    • Advanced the prospect relationship
    • Something new was learned or
    • Contact resulted in a next step
  3. Periodically review your progress and start over at #1
    • Regular, internal prospect review meetings (at least monthly)

Assess Your Needs and Resources
Sometimes when you first start exercising, you find that you are so, so tired and wonder if getting fit will ever give you more energy and finely-toned muscles. It will! But you have to slog through the first bit of work. That said, you can’t swim across the English Channel tomorrow if today you are struggling to swim across the pool. Assess your needs and resources:

  • Are you starting from scratch or have you already been tracking prospects somewhere?
    • Tweaking a system is often easier than starting new
  • Will gift officers be tasked with entering tracking info plus their prospect actions, or is there another staff member available?
    • Assigning some data entry to other staff, especially on newly identified prospects, keeps down the grumbling and frees up your gift officers to go and get those major gifts – no excuses!
  • Do you have many solicitors, or just a few?
    • When the office is small, it’s best to keep things as simple as possible
  • Is this for ongoing major gifts or a campaign?
    • While similar, a campaign may warrant a higher degree of tracking

You Will be Tweaking
As you choose a combination of database fields and database reports (or maybe Excel lists and calendars if you are very small) together with your regular prospect reviews, you *should* find yourself tweaking the moves management system. For example, you might realize you are re-visiting disqualified prospects and decide to change your prospect stage like this:

First Method Second Method










This is a natural progression in your use of your system. Or maybe you find that it takes forever to enter the information in various fields around your donor database record and decide to limit your tracking to a few key pieces all in one easy-to-enter place in the database. Or maybe you find that monthly meetings are not enough and weekly meetings would keep everyone where they need to be with their prospect list.

Ask any fitness freak – taking the time to understand the best times and types of exercise for yourself makes all the difference in achieving your goals. Taking the time to get your system customized to your fundraising culture and constituents will make all the difference in whether you achieve your major gift goals. Not everyone has washboard abs and not every nonprofit has an efficient, high-performing major gifts program!

Give Yourself a Generous Year
Give yourself at least a year from your first effort to get the system really working smoothly. If it’s not working after a year, take a hard look at whether you (a) really need a system or (2) have put the right kind of effort into it. If you are a one-person shop cultivating ten people across the year, you can keep a lot of that in your head and your calendar. If you have multiple solicitors and/or need to boost your total prospect numbers (those under identification, cultivation and stewardship), you won’t be effective without a system.

Consider Getting a Coach
Olympic athletes wouldn’t dream of training and competing without a coach. Even the most dedicated athletes find themselves tired and frustrated, unable to “see” what is holding them back. A coach can keep your spirits up, redirect your efforts to keep you performing, and, step-by-step, help you reach ever higher goals.

If you are determined to reach your major gift goals, but find yourself unable to wrap your hands around moves management or even identifying good prospects to track, contact Aspire Research Group. We specializing in helping fundraisers reach their goals, guiding you comfortably every step of the way. Call (727) 231-0516 or email jen at aspireresearchgroup.com.

For more blog posts on moves management, click here: Moves Management

Effective Relationship Management Systems

SandboxA relationship management system goes beyond moves management or prospect tracking. At the Association of Fundraising Professionals international conference in Baltimore last week Lisa Howley from Johns Hopkins University presented on Effective Relationship Management Systems.

She created a system for Wheaton College in Massachusetts with a development shop of ten and is creating one at Johns Hopkins where there is significantly more staff. The relationship management system goes beyond moving major gift prospects through the giving cycle by incorporating policies, such as privacy and gift policies, actual practices, the database and overall procedures. This addresses all sorts of issues around the kind of contact any donor might receive from the organization.

At Hopkins there are complications such as multiple schools and numerous development staff touching the same donor who may have multiple interests and affiliations with the school. However, even in a small shop it can be useful to create a smaller relationship management system addressing issues such as who, if anyone, must approve a solicitation before the donor is approached, what and how much data is recorded and tracked in the database, and what role volunteers such as board members have in touching donors. Creating a policy communicates expectations to everyone affected.

I view creating a relationship management system as a way of organizing development efforts so that everyone plays nicely in the nonprofit sandbox!

Facebook and your Database

HubSMThe Council for Advancement and Support of Education (CASE) group on LinkedIn had a recent discussion posted. A fundraiser was wondering if there was an automated or easy way to get a list of her organization’s fans so she could add this information into the donor database.

As it turns out someone commented that his organization has a direct update from Facebook to its Harris Connect online alumni community. From there the data is exported in and out of the donor database.

Are you looking for ways to keep track of your different methods of engagement?

The Multi-Channel Fundraising Game

WoodGameThe Philanthropy Journal wrote an article about the results of a new study released by Convio: The Next Generation of American Giving.  What I found most compelling is that people across the ages are responding and engaging with nonprofits through many different channels such as direct mail, website, social media, and events. My own preferences are that I enjoy getting Facebook updates, I like to attend events of interest, I receive a printed request to give and then make the gift through the website.

What does this mean for prospect research? Right now many nonprofits are struggling with how to track and evaluate direct mail and events, but movement is afoot to track and evaluate interaction across all those channels. By incorporating multi-channel interaction into the donor database, donor analytics could take on new dimensions saving time and money by allowing nonprofits to react and predict donor behaviors.

Is your organization tracking Facebook interactions in your database? How about Twitter or LinkedIn? Do you know if the commenter on your blog is a donor?