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Blog

Analysis Paralysis

Saranah Holmes

Analysis Paralysis. I’ve always gotten a kick out of the picture this phrase conveys. To me, it’s a group of people – stopped in their tracks – looking at data on a computer screen. No movement, no light bulbs going off, no smiles and no solutions.

And in fundraising, where developing relationships with donors is key, I’ve been told plenty of times, “Just get out there and meet with people! Don’t have your head in the data – analysis paralysis!"

Well, I don’t think meeting people is the fundraiser’s problem most of the time.  

It’s prioritizing all the activities and information coming at you and being as strategic as possible with the limited time and resources you have. A typical fundraising staff person has hundreds of decisions to make on a daily basis – all involving data. So, it’s a good strategy to review a little bit of data before you step out that door.

At the most basic level, data can tell you where the donor is, why they give, when they gave, and of course, the amount they gave. If you don’t know these – you might not secure the meeting in the first place or might appear unprepared.  

In the end, you have to strike a balance between data analysis and real life. Yes, get out there and meet with the donor(s), but use the data to your advantage. Data has got to be part of the equation for a successful fundraising experience.

When data is organized and presented well it can help educate you and others, inform strategy, and mobilize action around a donor or a group of donors.       

This image illustrates how tracking data can help you strategize for the future./Image courtesy of the author. 

This image illustrates how tracking data can help you strategize for the future./Image courtesy of the author. 

Build your baseline; build your donor story

So, for fundraisers – what is the data you should focus on? 

Well, can you answer these basic questions about your donors: who, what, why, when and how often? 

(If you can’t answer these key data points about your donor or a group of donors consistently or year over year you probably have a data collection and integrity problem. You need to clean up your data collection systems and processes and provide training to those recording it.)

If you can answer these questions, I recommend focusing next on these data points to build your donor story: 

·      Have they given in the past two or three years? What was the total amount?

·      How many times did they give (or not give)?

·      What is the average size gift by revenue channel?

·      What did they give to: specific campaigns and events or restricted programs or general support?

·      Why did they give: Did they give because someone close to them asked or you mailed a letter? Did they give because they are a recipient/participant/member of your organization?  Did they give when asked or did they give without an official request?

Knowing these key data points establishes a profile of your donor or a collective profile of many donors.

Use this information to not only understand your donor(s) better but to prioritize who you or others go to visit or solicit.

Beyond the baseline and into action

Once you understand your baseline you are better equipped to identify anomalies or positive trends and act on them. You can start to answer questions and address issues that impact a cross section of your operation – expenses/finance, systems, marketing, and personnel.

·      Have you been investing in direct mail such as in staffing, infrastructure or writing/content, and now see differences in results?

·      Have the cultivation events you hosted in a prior year started to pay off for major gift officers today?  

·      Are you able to see more clearly what the problems are with your pipeline and how to change course?

·      The latest philanthropy trends report says there is an increase in Donor Advised Fund giving. What can we do about that?

·      When thinking about your fundraising strategy in the future – what new data points do you need to collect to measure success?

With a solid data foundation, then strategies, goals and priorities are clearer – ensuring that that busy development staffer is spending their time and effort on the right donor(s) necessary for them to meet their fundraising goals.

Don’t forget: It’s all in the presentation

Have you ever seen donor data presented with music playing in the background and a light show?  Probably not that often. 

Why is it that data gets short-changed on pizazz when being presented?  To be universally understood by a diverse audience requires a lot of work up-front, by you using different mechanisms to reach your audience.  Use the baseline data and donor story you’ve built as the main narrative and work hard at displaying it graphically, succinctly and in an accessible format.  Don’t be ashamed to use even simple graphics available on Powerpoint to visually tell your story because the alternative - grey and white excel charts - just won’t cut it.

Even if you don’t have a graphic designer or lots of money to create these images you do need to put in the time if you are preparing this information for a broader audience. 

Through this process you will likely find data that rises to the forefront, while other data is less important.  This is a helpful activity to go through to succinctly present your case.  More images are a good thing!

If your presentation on donor data is successful, the audience will end up focusing on what’s beyond the baseline and start acting on a solid, fact-based strategy.    

About the Author: Christine Parker Hunt is a principal at Xceede Solutions. She has worked in programming and fundraising in the nonprofit space for more than 20 years. Contact her at christine.parkerhunt@xceedesolutions.com.