For many years, my wife and I have made it a tradition to see Handel’s Messiah during the
Christmas season. When the soloists, the chorale, the musicians, and their myriad
instruments blend perfectly together, this is a beautifully harmonious piece of music like
none other. Having seen it many times, however, I can tell you that no two performances
are the same. If even a single player is out of tune or off-time, it can throw the entire
performance off. If a soloist is “off” you will know it immediately. Beyond that – given the
complexity of the music and the size of the ensemble – it can be very difficult to pinpoint
what’s out of sync.
Many nonprofit leaders feel the same way about fundraising. Over the years, too many
have told me that they can’t move forward because their fundraising is stuck in
neutral. When I ask them what they think the problem is, they struggle to put it into
words. More often than not, they can’t point to any single problem or issue. In fact, they
often aren’t unhappy with their overall fundraising performance. They just have a strong
sense that they could be doing much better. Something is holding them back. But they
can’t put their finger on what it is. Deep down, they know there’s a better way.
Does that sound all too familiar? Over the nearly four decades we’ve been partnering with
nonprofits to improve their fundraising effectiveness, our team has identified ten of the
most common issues that hold organizations back from achieving their full potential in
fundraising. In this series of articles, we will review each of these in turn. Here is the first…
ISSUE #1. Not using donor data and analytics effectively.
In business, marketing and sales leaders know that gaining understanding of their
customers’ needs, motivations and buying patterns is vital to sustaining and growing
revenue. This principle also holds true for nonprofits, but too few organizations take
advantage of opportunities to gain a similar understanding.
How do donors view your organization relative to others they support? Why do they give?
What may be holding them back from giving more? What factors do they use to
distinguish and prioritize giving to your organization relative to other giving
opportunities? What programs are they most likely to invest in? What level of information
and engagement do they prefer? Data is key to unlocking the answers to these and other
questions that provide vital information needed to chart effective strategies for future
growth and to maximize the return on investments you are making in your fundraising
I started my fundraising career in 1990. One of the first things I learned is that fundraising
is equal parts art and science. Over the three-plus decades I’ve been fundraising I’ve seen
good progress in how organizations are becoming increasingly more artful in how they
ask for money. It’s the science side, however, that impresses me most these days.
Giving today doesn’t look much like it did over the past few decades. Fundraising
technologies have changed the landscape dramatically and are now advancing at a pace
that was unimaginable for most of my career. Most nonprofits and the agencies that serve
them are not adapting fast enough to keep up with these changes.
The science of fundraising starts with your data system. Far too many development
leaders I speak with today are frustrated with their data systems. For some, the problem is
they haven’t made enough of an investment to ensure that they have the right system to
meet their needs. For many others the problem is they don’t know how to get the
information they need out of the system, or they are not entering the data correctly to
begin with. In these cases, job number one is to get the right data system in place and
figure out how to make it work for you. (If you are considering upgrading your data system,
be sure to check out Virtuous at www.virtuous.org –in our view they have done a great job
designing a donor-centered system that marries ease-of-use with some of the most advanced
technologies available today and are making it available at a very reasonable cost).
Even the best data systems have limitations, however. At DickersonBakker we have
invested hundreds of thousands of dollars in recent years to enhance our ability to help
clients analyze the giving patterns of their donors. We are also partnering with platforms
and companies that are leveraging vast amounts of consumer data with the latest machine
learning and artificial intelligence in real-time. In addition, we regularly conduct research
studies to gain deeper understanding of donor attitudes, perceptions, and trends in the
Too few nonprofits are making these kinds of investments into the science of fundraising.
They tend to trust their “intuition”, and – as a result – often muddle through in their
messaging and approaches, expending precious time and money trying to find something
that sticks. Too many of the agencies that serve them are more interested in milking cash
out of old business systems and models than offering new and innovative solutions.
Are you convinced that your organization has command over your donor data and that you
are using it effectively? If not, it may be holding you back from achieving your full
potential in fundraising. Smart nonprofits understand that if they can gain a better
understanding of their giving partners, they can become more adept at acquiring new
donors and developing the right personal approaches and messaging that will maximize
their giving over the long term.
Our team at DickersonBakker can help. Why not contact us today to discuss how we can
help you find a better way to make today’s technology work for you?