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Are you an artist or a scientist? And is it time to be both?

- Jun 21 2018

For decades, fundraising has sat squarely in the “creative” industry. But with data and analytics becoming ever more sophisticated, and testing giving us the chance to learn even more about our donors, is it time we start approaching fundraising in a more scientific way?

Blackbaud's Vice President of Data & Analytics, Steve MacLaughlin, will be at Summer School this year to discuss how understanding big data and analytics can help charities achieve great results. He’s not interested in false promises or chasing data unicorns that fail to improve performance. Instead, his Summer School session will result in a meaningful discussion on how to make big data work for you.

Q1. What big changes or challenges do you see coming down the track for fundraising?

One of the biggest changes that we’re seeing is how well organisations can balance the art and science of fundraising. This is a sector that for the better part of the last century, has been largely driven by the artistic application of tactics. Yet we know that testing, metrics, analytics, and the use of data can help us to improve results in a much more scientific way. This is going to change the conversation from “Is fundraising an art or science?” to a recognition that fundraising is both an art and a science.

Q2. How do you think fundraisers can best prepare or adapt for those changes?

Fundraisers can have the right tools and tactics. They can have the right data and technology too. But culture and the ability to manage change are the most important ways to prepare for the future. The good news is that organisations of different sizes and missions are making this transition successfully. During my research, I’ve identified several different not-for-profit organisation culture types that have helped them become more data-driven.

Q3. What’s the most important lesson you’ve learned about fundraising?

Having data is critical to battling the “HiPPO” problem in many organisations. The Highest Paid Person’s Opinion (HiPPO) often trumps tested methods or data that would support another set of decisions. Why is the marketing messaging blue? The HiPPO wants blue. Why does the fundraising budget have a 15% increase? The HiPPO wants 15%. Not only does this management approach eventually lead to poorer performance, but it burns out the most talented fundraisers. We need to continue to empower fundraisers to use data as part of the decision-making process. Data is the best defense against the HiPPO.

Q4. What has got you excited about coming to Summer School this July?

First, Dublin is one of my favourite cities so it will be great to be able to spend a few days there. Second, I am always looking to learn from other professionals and the line-up of speakers is top notch. You never know which session is going to spur a lot of new ideas or challenge your own thinking.

Join Steve at Summer School and learn how big data can improve your fundraising. Book now.