A Nonprofit’s Guide to Running a Successful Data Engagement

Part one of this 6-part series is written by Mark Daigle and Eric White, members of the WealthEngine Professional Services Consulting team.

You know that using evidence-based metrics is the key to improving all aspects of your fundraising efforts. You recognize data is useful and can be used in decision making. But do you know what to do with the data you have? Or do you know exactly what data you have and if it’s useful?

If the answer to these questions are “no”, don’t worry. You’re not alone, and you’re not helpless. Engaging with a strategic third-party vendor can give the additional lift you need to help your fundraising take off.

Once you’ve vetted and selected the data provider of your choice and are preparing to begin your engagement with them, there are some key pieces to consider to maximize the effectiveness your project. We have compiled five areas that we suggest you and your team start thinking about as you prepare to embark on your project. For your data partner to properly execute and meet key deadlines, you should be prepared to discuss the following areas with them.

Over the upcoming weeks, we’ll dive into more detail on the topics below and lay out the process of setting up a successful data engagement step-by-step. In the meantime, here’s an outline of what’s to come:

Get the Right People on the Bus
Who are the people that need to be on board from the very beginning? Make sure to include executive leadership, development leadership, and the IT or database administrators. Everyone plays key roles at various points in the engagement. Having buy in from everyone from the beginning is key and it will also help with managing expectations. Key stakeholders should fully understand the scope, milestones, and expectations of the project. It will pay dividends later.

Work Backwards
Work backwards from the close date of your campaign to determine key deadlines. When are you going to conduct the A/B testing of your mailing campaign? When is the silent phase of the capital campaign scheduled to close? What is the deadline for submitting finalized collateral to the mail house?

The preparation, screening, and analysis of data sets takes time. Even the most straightforward data project sometimes lasts weeks or months so working backwards from fixed deadlines will ensure a successful outcome and help alleviate undue stress towards the end. 

Expect Hiccups
It is inevitable that you will experience a few bumps along the way. Suppose you have diligently entered birth dates onto your CRM or DMS records. You’ve exported them into an Excel file to share with your vendor, but your vendor calls to say that some dates appear as 1/1/1900! Your colleague that manages the database is on leave. What are you going to do? How are you going to fix this without having to push back your deadlines? Things like this happen sometimes, so be prepared. Ask your vendor. They can help.

Get Your Hands Dirty
Commit to being comfortable with the unknown. We learn more effectively by doing. Your data vendor is not asking you to be a statistician, but you may be asked some questions and be tasked with some responsibilities that will require you to be willing to stretch your mind. Do yourself a favor and don’t shy away from rolling your sleeves up and getting your hands dirty. You will become a better fundraiser for it.    

Enjoy the Ride
Fundraising brings with it a whole host of anxieties. Some of the old ways of operating are going to feel the safest, but they may not work. Embracing an analytical approach to fundraising can be scary, but it’s also a lot of fun. Data-driven fundraising empowers organizations to make more effective decisions that will drive their mission forward. There is nothing like the thrill of finding your OWN real life “millionaire next door.” They’re out there and you can find them by taking the right approach.

Working with a data vendor does not have to be daunting. Focusing on these five areas can help you have a successful data engagement and build a relationship with your vendor that will be beneficial for years to come.

In our next post we will dive deeper into who the right people are and the value of getting them in the room.

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