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About five years ago, I had my first negative experience with data. Here’s what happened.

I was conducting an analysis of a fundraising campaign from the previous year to inform our planning process for the coming year. As I started to look through the 20+ data points we had collected, I noticed that the data was disproportionate to the number individuals who signed up to participate. The average data point reflected information provided by less than 3% of the campaign participants.

Less than 3%!

As I sifted through the data, I struggled with how, or even if, to use the data that was available. It was hardly what I would call statistically relevant for the overall audience.

As I stepped back and pulled up the form we’d used to engage people in our campaign, I thought about the goal of our form – we wanted people to sign up. The primary focus was to engage them, and the secondary goal was to collect information that could inform more personal and relevant communications in the future. Looking at the form after the fact I couldn’t help but wonder if we sabotaged our primary goal trying to achieve our secondary goal.

Then, I found myself thinking about the form Facebook© uses to engage their users. Take a look below and see what I mean. The form on the left is the form we used in our campaign, and the form on the right is Facebook’s form.

There I was, asking more than 20 questions of the folks who were interested in signing up for our campaign. Facebook© was only asking for six pieces of information. Ironically, Facebook and I had the same goal – they just went about it in a different – and I would suggest – smarter way. Their focus was on getting you to sign up first and then worrying about everything else later.

Now, this may seem obvious, but asking 20+ questions is too much. But, before you laugh out loud at my expense consider that my intentions were good.

The year before a core group of us sat around the table and thoughtfully considered what data points would allow us to have more personal, timely, and relevant conversations with our supporters – allow us to be more donor-centric. We even went so far as developing a mind map that illustrated strategic shifts based on the various data points. What we didn’t expect was to have the overwhelming majority of people simply ignore our request for information all together. Which then begged the question:

Is more data truly better?

I’m not sure the same answer will apply to all organizations in all situations. But, as you continue to embrace the power of data to fuel your organization, take a moment to consider the following questions:

• Do you have a plan for how you will use the data you are collecting? Will it have a meaningful impact on your ability to engage, cultivate and solicit?
• Is there another time or way you could acquire meaningful data without having to ask for it during their first visit?
• Is the value of the data you’re asking participants to give equal to the value of what you’re offering to give them in return?

In the world of fundraising data is all about connecting with your donors. But in order to connect fully, we must balance what is absolutely needed with what can be provided comfortably.

That year I had intended to help my organization be data-driven and donor-centric, but I missed the mark a little. I learned some important lessons that have stuck with me. I hope my experience encourages you and your team to explore these questions, and have a conversation that will enhance and strengthen your efforts.