by Ali Marcus
Fundraisers often describe their career as accidental; a desire to impact the community is often the clear motivation for the career – rather than the draw to fundraising itself. I find that many people with fundraising responsibilities fear fundraising or feel they don’t know how to do it.
When I partner with organizations on development assessments (in-depth evaluations of your organization’s challenges and opportunities in fundraising), I hear similar views, fears, and uncertainties about fundraising data. Fundraisers don’t often feel they have the skills in database management or data analysis, or they just plain don’t enjoy these responsibilities.
Whether you like it or not, organizations need fundraising data more than ever to succeed in engaging donors and accomplishing their missions. As I look into my crystal ball for the 2020s, I see fundraising taking center stage in nonprofit strategy, with fundraising data as a crucial driver of innovation and success.
There are two key norms that you can incorporate into your organization’s culture to elevate data as part of your fundraising strategy this year.
Data work often falls to administrative or junior staff. These “data people” are tasked with entering data into your database or pulling reports with little to no guidance. In nonprofits, we don’t often have overarching strategies for data, so “data people” do their best to complete seemingly random tasks, using common sense and organizational skills but without the benefit of a bigger picture.
When your “data person” leaves, the rest of the department or organization panics because no one else knows how to operate the database or reports. One of two things typically happens from here: either someone is tasked with reinventing the wheel in whatever way makes sense to them, or data collection atrophies for a period of time, to the detriment of your fundraising planning and strategy.
Some organizations believe that analyzing fundraising data alone will lead to magical answers about how they should operate in the future. Unfortunately, data alone is not useful without greater context. The details behind the numbers matter more than the numbers themselves; they reflect the relationships you hold with your donors.
For example, if you look at your total fundraising revenue from the past few years and notice a downward trend, you might conclude that you need to shift your fundraising strategies. Yet, if you consider that you lost a few key staff and your events were hit hard by a local factory closure (your major event sponsor), you realize there’s more to the story. Conversely, if last year’s fundraising revenue shows a 50 percent increase over the previous year, it may reflect a one-time bequest, federal grant, or other source that cannot be repeated in subsequent years. Data analysis plays directly into your ability to set and achieve goals, and to prioritize retention and cross-departmental collaboration.
If you or your board evaluates fundraising success simply by comparing the contributed revenue budget lines year-over-year, you are not alone. However, this is a missed opportunity to understand the true factors that go into fundraising and relationship building. A more nuanced look at fundraising data can bring to light important questions and reflections to help with planning for the future.
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