The Data-Driven Advancement Shop

How to make your advancement operation more (strategically) data-driven, and how to do it in a way that supports and respects the people who drive your organization was the focus of my recent breakout session entitled “The Data-Driven Advancement Shop,” which I presented at the 2016 CASE District VIII conference in Calgary. A copy of my presentation is available here. We frequently speak of fundraising as being all about people and relationships, and yet we sometimes don’t afford the people inside our organizations the same level of consideration we do our donors and prospects. As data becomes increasingly important to our efforts we run an even greater risk of overlooking the human element.

This year’s CASE District VIII conference featured a couple of new wrinkles:

  1. An emphasis on alternative breakout session formats in lieu of the tradition lecture-style encounter.
  2. A new way of categorizing breakout sessions – instead of the usual disciplinary tracks such as major giving, annual giving, alumni relations, etc., sessions were divided into Process, People, Performance, and Purpose tracks.

“The Data-Driven Advancement Shop” was slotted into the People track. I had originally expected to fall into the Process track, but after a conversation with one of the program chairs I saw an opportunity to shift the focus of the session toward some rather overlooked human considerations of the race to become more data-driven.

I had two stated objectives for the session:

  1. Through guided small group exercises, participants would leave with specific, actionable ideas for becoming increasingly data-driven in their organizations in ways that would drive strategic business results.
  2. Participants would also leave equipped with a much broader appreciation of the key human factors that are usually neglected as we try become more data-oriented, much to the detriment of our organizations and their people. In order to become more data-driven AND more effective, these factors need to be accounted for.

Take training, for example. Consider, also, job goals, expectations, and performance measurement. As we increasingly expect everyone in fundraising, including front-line gift officers, to capture, record, analyze, and use data more and more effectively to get better and better results, we often fail to consider the fact that these fundraisers only received a minimum amount of training to use the database, and that may have been many years ago, depending on how long ago they were hired. In addition, as we ratchet up what we expect of them in terms of data management, we usually don’t clearly define those new expectations as being officially a part of the job (which is also something we should be thinking about for future new hires), nor do we take something away elsewhere in the workload in order to allow this all to fit in without simply expecting everyone to work longer hours.

On the other side of that same coin, we’d like our data management professionals to do a better job of not merely handling data for data’s sake, but also of providing customer service to fundraisers and uncovering and delivering actionable insights that gift officers can use in their cultivation efforts. But as we do that, have we thought about how this does or doesn’t fit into the high-volume transactional goals against which we measure them? Why would I, as a gift processor, be motivated to drop what I’m doing to handle your one gift (even if it’s six figures), when I have to worry about being dinged on a performance review for failing to maintain a certain average number of gifts processed per week? Similarly, as a records specialist, I may see something in a new constituent record I’ve created that someone in prospect research might find useful, but I have a huge backlog of addresses to update from returned mail. According to my job description and my metrics, it’s more important to get the backlog cleared, even if nearly all of those returned pieces of mail were sent to people who’ve never made a gift. So even though I’m focused on data, it’s not necessarily the right data – which is to say, it’s not the most strategic use of data. To then lament that our data processors don’t see the big picture is completely unfair to them; they’re just doing what they’ve been told they will be held accountable for.

Job descriptions and training are just a few of the aspects of your business that provide opportunities to become more data-driven AND people-centric. By attending to the human factors of data-driven fundraising you can empower your people to turn data into better results.

Brandon Ferris, Senior Director of Strategic Services
Zuri Group


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s