The Data Plan: Where Science Meets Art

While philanthropic giving is making a rebound from the bleakest years of the recession, the challenge to capture donors’ interests, understand their needs, engage them, and convert into lifelong donors remains.

Donor analytics can help you uncover and realize your philanthropic potential, but the scale and complexity of these services can be overwhelming. Organizations need to develop clear plans for using their data to drive decision-making and fundraising.

A recent Campbell & Company webinar provided guidance on this very topic from Carrie Dahlquist, Campbell & Company Director of Strategic Information Services, and Jeff Wilklow, Campbell & Company Vice President. During the session, they discussed the evolving role that data is playing, both strategically and tactically, in development programs. Additionally, they discussed the process for collecting and using information effectively.

Data Appends can add value

The first step is to start with a clean prospect list. While most organizations are pretty good about making periodic updates from National Change of Address (NCOA) reports, traditional mail is only one method of connecting with current and potential donors. Email and phone contacts are just as important today. Relatively inexpensive “data enrichment” services can provide you with email and phone appends in addition to changes in marital status, age updates and lists of donors who have passed. Carrie Dahlquist advises that keeping this information up-to-date can allow greater options for contacting constituents and can help in segmentation and engagement strategies.

Analyze Publically Available Information and Your Own Data

Now more than ever, when we are all competing for a smaller philanthropic pool, it is important to prioritize staff time and effort on the “right” prospects. There are a number of “indicators” that can help inform this process, and they generally revolve around capacity and inclination.

Some of this information is available publicly, and there are vendors that provide electronicData Resources screening services, which access and aggregate information on wealth, assets and philanthropic affiliations. This can help you identify who has capacity and may warrant additional review.

Either in-house, or working with a vendor, you can also use predictive modeling to analyze records in your own database and identify prospects who share characteristics with your major gift donors. This can help you develop a profile of your “best donor” so you can develop better segmentation and engagement strategies.

If working with a vendor isn’t in the budget, there are simple steps you can take to begin to segment your database. For example, creating a RFM (Recency, Frequency, Monetary) score is an easy way to prioritize prospects based on their previous engagement with the organization. 

Any of these data points will help further inform your knowledge of your prospect base and provide insights into how to prioritize. Using them together can provide even greater clarity, helping you find prospects who have potential but who might not be in your major-gift sightline.

Once you begin to prioritize your prospects and prepare for further interaction, you can also use data to learn more about them before establishing connection. As Carrie explains, “As we prepare to qualify our potential prospects, it’s helpful to learn about their career, other philanthropic commitments, hobbies, community and professional networks. These all can help to initiate a more personal conversation and focus on how they might want to be further engaged.”

Worksheets on the Campbell & Company website can help build these databases, and we have compiled a list of fee-based and free resources as well. One note of caution: If you are using electronic screening, it is important to dedicate a portion of someone’s time to vetting and verifying the information.

Leverage data to manage

So you’ve got all of this data, now what do you do with it? You needn’t reserve this great information only for major gift programs and campaigns. Once you’ve determined which top prospects will be individually managed, you can use the data to think through engagement and cultivation strategies for other key groups of prospects who will not be managed one-on-one. And you can track your progress using metrics.

Metrics vary by program area, but developing a set of metrics that links to the broader mission and tracks progress is essential. And more often organizations are using metrics in scorecards to manage their programs. Campbell & Company has sample lists of metrics by program area as well as a sample scorecard here. While each organization may find a different set of metrics and scorecard format meaningful, the goal is to ensure programs are on track and we have transparency with key stakeholders.

Have a plan for implementation

But all too often organizations collect data and then don’t use it effectively. Jeff Wilklow warns, “there may be a tendency to get an analyst in-house and have them develop all sorts of information for you without an idea for how it will be used. I also hear from prospect research staff who don’t think their work is being well utilized.” Have a plan in place before the data collection and analysis begins. This will involve needs assessment, education of leadership, resource allocation, a focus on implementation and tracking success, and reporting that success.

Anticipate the process

And remember that this is a process. Oftentimes organizations need to experience a culture shift in order to use data as a central piece of driving their missions. Yet once that culture shift takes place, the lure of the end result becomes too tempting. “I find that organizations want to go from zero to sixty,” Carrie says. “Leadership often expects results immediately, but I have to remind them that it takes time.”

Jeff adds, “It is a process that will be informed by data, but at the end of the day we are still talking about people and relationships.” In other words, it’s not just a matter of identifying people and then asking them for money. There are a lot of steps in between: qualifying and identifying good prospects, cultivating those relationships, working through a good solicitation, and then stewarding that relationship so that you can go back for an even larger solicitation later. It’s the very rare donor who commits to a major gift right out of the starting blocks. As Jeff explains, “This is a process where science meets art.”
Questions or comments concerning your data plan? Leave a comment or email Carrie Dahlquist.
Strategic Information Services

Sarah Barnes

As an Online Fundraising Consultant, Sarah Barnes works with organizations to optimize their online presence through analyzing data that ultimately reveals strategies for the future. In her work with clients, Sarah most values opportunities to review and assess online data from multiple channels such as an organization’s website, social media channels and email marketing initiatives, to inform decisions, as well as working closely with organizations to brainstorm and identify and optimize strategic online fundraising initiatives.