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How to Become a Data-Savvy Fundraiser

Fundraisers, by nature, tend to be brilliant ‘people’ people. Give a fundraiser a room full of people and they will happily chat to everyone they can, moving around the room with ease, making conversation, creating opportunities to talk about their non-profit and making as much of an impact on the guests as they can in a short space of time.

Give some fundraisers a database however and it can be a different story. While there will be many fundraisers reading this who have awesome analytical, data insight and data manipulation skills, we’re aware that it doesn’t come naturally to everyone.

But given most fundraising is about relationships, does this matter? Do fundraising teams need data skills? The answer is yes, they really do. As many historical funding sources continue to dry up and the industry is increasingly scrutinized, fundraising is becoming a tougher job. It’s no longer good enough to rely on the donors you already have. Everyone needs to work on increasing their donor pool and focusing efforts on talking to the right people with the right message. Without data this becomes a lot of guesswork.

David Burgess, Director at Apollo Fundraising, believes fundraisers need to understand the value of behavioral data:

Fundraisers are generally aware of the importance of having accurate contact data for donors and potential supporters. However, being able to contact someone is the easy bit – having something interesting to say is a much bigger challenge. To ensure your fundraising messages stand out you need to respond to each donor’s motivations and their capacity to give. The data you hold can give a very clear steer about both of these factors. Their ticket buying/attendance history, total spend and donation history are often much more important than their zip code and email address.

With data you can work smarter, not harder. So, what skills are essential to a fundraising team? What do we mean by ‘data savvy’?

The basic skills you’ll need

Whether you use a CRM system or spreadsheets, basic data manipulation skills are essential for any fundraising team. This means being able to get data out of your system and being able to do the basics in Excel, such as filters, basic equations, pivot tables and sorting.

You also need an understanding of the value of data. Being able to make decisions on the best way to use your current software, set out guidelines for best practice and ensure the data is kept in a good state are crucial. After all, data led insights are only as good as the quality of the data.

Have an understanding of what can be done

Once you have basic data manipulation skills, the next step is having an idea of what’s possible, even if you don’t quite know how to do it. For example, if you want to run a Name a Seat campaign and send appeal letters to your top bookers, do you know if you can get a list of your top bookers from your database? Do you know if you can segment these by type of person (you might want to exclude staff or VIPs), do you know how to ensure you exclude people you might want to approach for a larger or smaller gift?

Once you have this, a quick Google search will give you most answers. Of course, if you use Spektrix, a quick call to the support team will get you the answers you need.

Without an understanding of what can be done, you won’t know what questions to ask, meaning you could be missing out on opportunities.

Read, understand and use data

Once you have your data, and you’ve used your data manipulation skills to to organize it into something sensible, the next skill is being able to understand what the data is telling you. It’s at this point you can use the data to make informed decisions.

It’s difficult to understand data in isolation, a single donor record says a lot about the individual, but little about your donors’ giving and booking habits as a whole. Understanding data requires comparison. Start by analyzing your whole database, asking questions such as...

  • On average how often do your donors attend shows?
  • How do your donors book tickets?
  • How many tickets and how far in advance do your members donate?
  • How often do your major donors make smaller gifts?
  • How many donors are on your mailing lists?

Building a clear picture of your organization's donors’ habits will enable you to benchmark for future analysis, forecast expected income for campaigns and ensure you are contacting the right people.

For example, if the average point of sale online donation is $9.53, when you set up a new online campaign targeting low level donors you can suggest a donation of $10, knowing this won’t be too little or too big an ask. This then gives you a starting point to push for larger donations, using your initial analysis as a benchmark.

If you want to encourage ticket bookers to join your membership program, knowing the booking habits of your current members will tell you which ticket buyers are likely to be interested in joining. If members tend to book 4+ shows a year around 3 weeks in advance, find your ticket bookers with the same booking habits but who haven't joined the membership program yet.

You can also look at benchmarks across the sector to see where you are doing really well, or where there might be room for improvement. The Institute of Fundraising publishes regular research reports and your CRM provider might also publish annual reports (at Spektrix, we publish an annual Aggregate Data Report as well as research on our blog).

Of course, data isn’t just used to inform campaigns, but also to communicate information to colleagues and supporters. This involves being able to present data in a useful manner. A great skill when trying to communicate with senior staff, board members or donors. Remember, visual interpretations of data are often easier and quicker to understand than lots of tables and words - think about graphs, pie charts, short sentences and images.

If you don’t have these skills in your team, don’t worry!

Fear not, a lot of data analysis skills can be learned. But, it does take time, and like anything, a bit of practice. It’s not essential for one person to do all of the above. You might have someone in your team who is great with excel, and someone else who is brilliant at turning data into easy to understand visuals.

If you already have someone who does all this...

Hoorah! But, be careful not to leave all the work to one individual. As a team, it’s everyone’s job to enter data in your database, so it’s unfair, and impractical, to expect just one person to look after everything. They can’t check every new customer set up or every update you make. This means everyone needs a basic understanding of how to manage data and what impact their actions have when it comes to analyzing data at a later date.

Make sure to invest in training

Whether you have data savvy skills in your team or not, don’t underestimate the value of investing in training for staff in these skills. Yes, it takes time, and, in some cases, money (although if you’re a Spektrix user training is included in your service fee), but how much time is your team wasting on dead ends? How much time is spent on researching the wrong prospects, mailing prospects who aren’t that engaged with your organization? Data analysis will refine your prospecting and make sure you are investing time in genuine opportunities.

So get some reports running, open up excel and get data savvy!