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Analytics: A Cadenced Strategy

People and Numbers 090414

By Carol Belair, Senior Consultant, Target Analytics at Blackbaud

Over the past 19 ½ years, I have worked with thousands of nonprofit clients to recommend strategies for implementing predictive analytics projects and to help them identify specific types of prospective donors. My colleagues and I tremendously enjoy what we do, and have had many clients report tremendous success with our recommendations. One could say that we have made some interesting observations from our clients’ feedback and I believe that one of the most prevalent observations is that clients often feel a sense of “information overload,” or possibly “analysis paralysis,” when they first start working with analytics data. Success often comes down to ensuring that an organization takes a cadenced approach both with deciding what products to purchase and in how to implement the project once data is delivered by their analytics vendor. That is why over a year and a half ago our team decided to boil down the explanation of analytics projects, results, and implementation recommendations into manageable and realistic steps.

What Suite of Products and Amount of Data Will Best Meet Your Needs?

Let’s first talk about the purchasing phase. How do you decide which solutions make sense for your organization? You want to find a balanced suite of products that will help mitigate information overload while at the same time truly embracing a comprehensive approach so that no stone, or in this case prospective donor, is left unturned. Think through what your overall objective is and make sure that the suite of services you select address this first and foremost.

Possibly the most successful strategy clients have instituted over the years is one that involves screening their entire database using predictive analytics, identifying the most likely and capable donors for various types of gifts (i.e. annual, major, and planned) and receiving back a subset of the entire database with modeling results. Then, they continue to screen the top group identified from the modeling through public wealth screening data sources to uncover further data to help them qualify, segment, and prioritize those to focus on for the larger major and principal gifts. The clients I consult with do well with this type of cadence. It works to their advantage versus getting lost in the world of data overload.

The strategy that is less successful involves simply doing a public wealth screening of most or all of the database. This is often an expensive and time-consuming endeavor. Clients who wealth screen large batches of records end up with details on a vast number of prospects that they will never analyze or look at. Many of your best prospects for larger gifts are very savvy at hiding their wealth, biographical information, connections, and philanthropy.

Thanks for All This Great Data – Now What?

In my experience I find that the most successful client is one who breaks down their implementation into smaller steps creating an efficient process that moves the organization towards achieving its larger goals. Having an ongoing engagement with your fundraising analytics vendor will also help ensure that the cadence of implementation steps is one that is focused, has forward momentum, and is nimble with the ability to modify strategy when it is merited.

At Target Analytics, we utilize a methodology called SMART Goals. Taking the time to put together an implementation plan that includes, for example, three immediate next steps that are Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time Bound for each area of fundraising programs (annual, major, and planned giving), helps organizations take action with the data results they have received vs. a “too much – too soon” approach. Below are examples of how an organization can immediately implement the results of analytics projects in a sustainable manner:

• Major Gifts:
Let’s say that your organization is in the midst of implementing a management system for your major (and planned gift) prospects. A first next step would be qualifying and disqualifying those prospects you already have in prospect portfolios. Several of my clients go about this process by setting up weekly prospect review meetings to work through the aforementioned steps. The lists themselves should include name, address, who is currently assigned to the prospect, any pertinent affiliation data, summarized gift data, number of contacts, next action steps, modeling/wealth screening scores, and internal ratings. No matter how you approach this step, finding an attainable completion date for cleaning existing portfolios is very important to keep the project moving forward.

The next step may be to look systematically at layering the results of your analytics project into your prospect qualification efforts. You can do this by assigning newly identified prospects with capacity and likelihood to give you larger gifts, and then gift officers can manage reaching out to these prospects into daily and weekly qualification efforts. Determine how many prospects each gift officer can qualify on a monthly basis. It might be 5 or 10, or it might be 2 or 3. The number doesn’t matter, as long as it is manageable and will help them discuss your organization’s mission with capable and inclined prospects, and eventually attain the fundraising goals you have in place.

• Annual Gifts:
For annual giving the first step might be testing the results with an upgrade mailing or phon-a-thon outreach to top scoring annual fund prospects. Perhaps select 500 records, incorporating your recent donors (i.e., current donors and LYBUNTs), utilizing their last gift amount and then suggesting appropriate ask strings based on the capacity identified from your analytics project.

Whatever your approach is, make sure your annual appeals are strategic in nature, explaining how the gift will be utilized and how the organization will benefit from the gift. Also consider providing a donor story from someone who upgraded at a similar dollar level. You can then measure the success of these efforts and adjust as necessary for the next appeal.

• Planned Gifts:
With your planned giving program, the first step should be focused on the most likely prospects retuned from the modeling. Many of my clients don’t have any planned gift marketing strategy, so their first step is usually sending a targeted mail or email campaign based on higher scoring donors with a long history of loyalty. For those organizations without a planned giving society, also consider establishing one and marketing to top-scoring prospects for membership.

If you are fortunate enough to have a gift officer specifically focused on planned gifts, correlate your list of highest scoring prospects with those already in your planned gift giving society (i.e., Heritage or Legacy Society). For those who are not currently members of this society, reach out to these prospects on an individual basis. Of these top scoring planned gift prospects, you could look at those with higher capacity scores for Charitable Remainder Trust opportunities.

In the end, each nonprofit will need to find a cadence for implementation that is both manageable and helps achieve organizational and fundraising goals. I would love to hear your organization’s strategy for these types of projects, so please feel free to get in touch with me at


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