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It’s All in the Data
By Steve Jacobson
April 2, 2013
How one consultant helped the Art Institute of Chicago improve fundraising through data measurement
Ed Koch, the late great former mayor of New York City, used to walk around town and ask his constituents, “How’m I doin’?” Sure, the mayor had poll numbers and other statistics to look at, but with rampant crime and a deteriorating quality of life, fixing the City wasn’t going to be about numbers. It was going to be about attitude, swagger, and instilling optimism in a pessimistic populace.
Fast forward to another three-term NYC mayor, Michael Bloomberg, and the answer to “How’m I doin’?” is all about numbers—setting goals, establishing metrics, and measuring the results. Crime is down 13 percent, mass transit ridership is up 22 percent. The good news is in the data, regardless of the Mayor’s disposition.
As you look at your fundraising operations, which camp are you in? Are you making informed decisions based on hard data and/or specific metrics, or are you flying blind and using instinct to evaluate your efforts?
Guesswork makes messwork
We have a problem, Houston
For some, the next step might have been to try and recode the data base. But AIC first took a step back and asked themselves, “What do we need to know to manage our business more effectively?” Before any discussion of technology could begin, they needed to define their objectives and strategic measures and to get all of the stakeholders—development, membership, and finance—to come to a common understanding of “this is what we care about.”
Mind the Gap
The steps taken previously had given the team real focus.
Building a Prospect Model
These cultivation steps may seem elementary, and many organizations do not track and measure where they stand or what their results have been. But AIC had bought into the maxim: “You can’t manage what you don’t measure.” Leadership wanted to know how successful each fundraiser was at each step of the process using data instead of instinct. They could then use that information to make necessary alterations—or not. By setting specific weekly goals such as the number of contacts to make, the total value of proposals outstanding, and, most importantly, how many proposals were closed and how much money was raised, AIC could assess each fundraiser accurately. Additionally, it could predict how much money was likely to flow into the organization, and to which funding areas.
Of course, the relationship between the fundraiser and the prospect/donor is fluid. Fundraisers can have multiple proposals out to a single prospect. Once the prospect funds the proposal, the major gift officer can continue to steward the prospect and, when the time is right, cultivate him or her for the next gift. And, should the prospect not wish to fund a specific proposal, AIC’s system recognizes that the prospect still has the capacity to give and can be reengaged for cultivating another opportunity. Figure 2 illustrates the prospect life cycle.
Ultimately, AIC understood that a system is not just about technology and recording data. It’s about building a platform that enables tracking and measuring pre-defined strategic objectives and making data-driven decisions. Just like Mayor Bloomberg.
Steve Jacobson is president and CEO of Jacobson Consulting Applications, Inc., a firm he founded in 1988 to provide technology consulting to nonprofit organizations. He has provided system selection, integration, and best practices consulting for such clients as The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Wildlife Conservation Society, and the National Constitution Center. He is an active member of AFP, AAM, MCN and INTIX. Prior to founding JCA, Steve worked in the field of economic consulting. He holds a B.A. from Stanford University.
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