Data-Driven Fundraising

Data is big business—I mean majorly big business. Consumer information is arguably one of the fastest growing economic commodities in our society, and organizations are paying big bucks to get their hands on this consumer data. From political analysis to product development, data drives strategy and decisions.

In 2012, a New York Times article raised public awareness regarding how companies are collecting and statistically analyzing consumer information. The article’s author, Charles Duhigg, wrote, “Almost every major retailer, from grocery chains to investment banks to the U.S. Postal Service, has a ‘predictive analytics’ department devoted to understanding not just consumers’ shopping habits but also their personal habits, so as to more efficiently market to them.”

While the for-profit industry capitalizes on data analysis to strategically grow profits and customer base, the nonprofit industry seems to lag behind—particularly in the area of fundraising.

Here are three ways to utilize data in your fundraising strategy, without a lot of added cost:

1)    Know your (potential) donors. It seems obvious, but I respectfully suggest that you don’t know your donors nearly as well as for-profit companies like Target or Amazon.com do. Understand why your donors give—and in this regard, loyalty doesn’t count. Find out what they specifically appreciate about your organization. What other organizations do they support, and why? Where does your cause rank in funding priority? What would cause a donor to increase his/her support?

2)    Track your donor-organization contact. It’s not just about when you send a mailing to the donor, but also when and how a donor responds. Did they attend an event or volunteer for a committee? Was a contribution made in response to a personal visit or public recognition? Are donations directed toward specific projects, but not others? Often donors self-identify and subtly communicate their interests. There is a host of data here, if organizations are willing to look.

3)    Tailor your appeals. Yes, this is a plug for segmentation. Not all donors are the same;  we should stop treating them so by expecting them to respond to one-size-fits-all appeals. We hail long-time supporters of our organizations with recognition and thanks, but often treat them as though they’re newcomers to our fundraising needs, oblivious to our previous partnership.

Target’s careful analysis enables them to send coupons for baby gear or power tools to specific customers rather than spamming their entire database with unnecessary material. When I log on to Amazon.com, I’m greeted with book recommendations tailored “just for me” based on previous purchases—and, no doubt, statistical analysis of similar purchases made by other customers.

Implementing data to grow support shouldn’t be limited to for-profit markets. Whether an agency or congregation, your nonprofit organization has similar information available if you’re willing to look for it. Use this data to uniquely message your organization—and your donors—for stronger partnerships and increased support.

To Know Or Not To Know

I had lunch with a pastor friend of mine last week. I asked him if he knew what his church members gave to the church. He looked surprised and responded, “Of course! Stewardship is a spiritual exercise which is our way of giving thanks to God for the blessings bestowed upon us. If I don’t know what my members are giving, I may miss a sign that something is wrong with my members. I could miss an opportunity for ministry.”

How true. As Henri Nouwen wrote in his book “The Spirituality of Fundraising, “Fundraising is, first and foremost, a form of ministry.”

Pastors should not only know what their members give annually, they should make discussion of a member’s giving an annual occurrence in order to unearth any ministry needs as well as to unleash the joy of generosity.

My friend shared a recent example: “Marjorie, a longtime member of my congregation, stopped giving in the middle of the year last year. It was my first clue that something was wrong. Turns out, she had been diagnosed with stage 4 pancreatic cancer, which I did not know. I called her and was able to begin end of life ministry, which could have been delayed had I not known her giving habits.”

To be sure, donor confidentiality is important, and steps should be taken at a church to make sure that the fewest people possible have access to the giving records of the membership.  Pastors, though, need to be one of those few people. It is not an invasion of privacy for pastors to know the giving habits of their members–rather, it is ministerial acquiescence not to know those giving habits. If this is the case in your congregation, it is time to have a serious meeting with the council to begin the process to change policy.