The rally cry for data was loud and clear at the 2018 CASE Asia Pacific conference in Hong Kong. At the closing plenary session, Professor Marnie Hughes-Warrington, Deputy Vice-Chancellor at Australian National University, shared how an extraordinarily generous gift for scholarships inspired the university to transform its admissions process. However, while the gift provided the impetus, it took 600 pages of reports and 150 pages of data to convince the staff and administration to move from inspiration to institution-wide action. Her closing advice to the audience was, therefore, simple: “Data, data, data!”
Professor Hughes-Warrington was not alone in her call for data-driven strategies. Throughout the conference, I witnessed dozens of examples of how we—advancement professionals—rely on data, and how doing so improves our performance. Schools that were new to fundraising proudly shared and compared their annual fund participation rates, and others celebrated the number of first-time donors they have brought on board. University alumni affairs staff swapped formulas for measuring alumni engagement and discussed the challenges of maintaining a high percentage of contactable alumni in today’s increasingly globalized and transient world. One director of development had the experience of building an alumni database from scratch because her 50-year-old institution had kept no historical record of attendees.
I’ve seen and felt the power of data in my own work as a director of development. At one organization, much of the fundraising was done through letters, even at the major gift level. I can remember looking through donor files during my first week on the job and reading a letter that asked a donor to renew his support with another gift of $100,000. And what was next in that file? An acknowledgment letter for that gift. With a large group of committed, long-time donors, the letters were working, but the organization’s leadership knew they were leaving money on the table. When I joined the team, the direction from the top was to reshape our fundraising culture, to shift away from all those letters and move toward a relationship-management model.
The first step in developing this model was to review our current donors and assign them to gift officer portfolios. We had thousands of donor records, and I was new to both the organization and the city; it was hard to know where to start. Fortunately, we had recent wealth screening data, a brilliant database manager, and a data-minded prospect researcher. Working together, we were able to create a predictive model to identify those individuals who we thought were most likely to make major gifts. I still remember how exciting it was, after long weeks of very detailed work, to get that final data file with all of our prospects ranked and sorted.
Over the next few years, my team and I worked our way down that list, meeting with prospects and determining whether they had the interest and inclination to make a major gift in the near-term. As we moved less promising prospects out of our portfolios, I replenished them with new ones. Of course, we made new connections and other prospects came into our network along the way, but having that prioritized prospect list at hand kept us focused.
It wasn’t until years later that I saw how GG+A brings together constituent data, demographics, and national giving benchmarks to build customized, predictive fundraising models. I thought the model I’d built a dozen years ago was pretty great—and indeed it was for my needs at that time—but this was a whole other level of sophistication. Instead of looking at a database through just one lens, GG+A’s analytics team can identify major gift, planned gift, and annual giving prospects; analyze individual fundraiser activity using their assigned portfolios; help inform staffing decisions to improve fundraising operations; and more. After just one meeting with our analytics team, I knew I’d found my tribe at GG+A, one that shares the rally cry of “data, data, data.”
To learn more about GG+A’s prospect research and analytics services, check out this presentation from a recent GG+A Lunch and Learn session for clients and friends in Sydney, Australia.