“Small Data:” The ONE Piece of Analytics Every Fundraiser Should Know

The phrase “big data” is everywhere now. Most of us are so well aware of the amazing things companies like Google and Amazon are doing with the oceans of data they collect about us that we’ve come to expect this level of sophistication to be the norm. Most nonprofit organizations aren’t able to collect the amount or kind of data the giants can, but they can still use analytics very effectively to achieve better fundraising results.

Because big data and everything associated with it has become such a part of popular consciousness, I believe that our industry has come to:

  • Expect too much from our data. We simply do not have the ability the collect the amount or type of data that Google does.
  • And yet, in opposition to the bullet above, overlook some very fundamental and useful data we have at our fingertips.

The latter bullet is the one to which I refer in my title. To find out whether you know the ONE thing I’m talking about, try to answer this simple question right now:

What percentage of the constituents in your database have NEVER made a gift to your organization?

That’s it! Simple enough.

You’re forgiven if you have to run a query to get the answer this time, but I would suggest this should be top-of-mind knowledge from this moment forward. Why? Because knowing this critical piece of information and using it to inform fundraising business decisions is the first step in becoming a data-driven fundraising operation.

Here are four things you can do with that simple piece of information that will save money, improve fundraising results, or simplify your operations:

  1. Reduce the number of times your long-term never givers are solicited each year.
  2. Rank long-time high capacity never givers lower than other high capacity prospects when making assignments. This is especially important when you wealth screen thousands or tens of thousands of records.
  3. Purge the oldest records of never givers from your database if you can (not alumni, for example).
  4. When you do send an occasional mass appeal to the oldest never givers, craft a message that emphasizes participation over high ask ladders.

You’ve probably already come up with more ideas. These may sound like obvious decisions to make, and yet I still commonly see a proclivity for “shotgun” tactics aimed at everyone in the database. If you cannot start with simple tactics such as these, it will be that much harder to achieve higher levels of sophistication and take full advantage of all the power your data has to offer.

Analytics-based fundraising, data-driven fundraising, call it whatever you like, is fundamentally about prioritizing your resources and efforts – targeting your dollars, time, and people toward the prospects most likely to make the biggest impact. Start with small data and build your way toward becoming a data-driven fundraising team.


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