Big Tent or Three-Legged Stool?

14-01-06_graphicSo much trade journalism in direct marketing fundraising today, including the blogosphere, deals with the collection, organization, and analysis of “big” donor data, specifically, behavioral data.

It seems everywhere we look, data frames the conversation, and understandably so. Some have called data the tent-pole of our industry, the single support upon which all successful donor acquisition, retention, and fundraising rely.

Sadly, there is comparatively little coverage on how to use that information, passionate odes to “storytelling” notwithstanding. Translating that data into messages (and yes, stories) that resonate with donors, and compel them to act, is a subject about which is hard to find articulation.

But without that articulation, hoping that data alone solves the problems is a little like selling someone on a new HD TV by describing only how the plasma display technology works, yet never showing him the picture quality it produces.

We make decisions based on how donor cohorts have behaved in the past, but give little thought to what moved them to give in the first place. Not surprisingly, many nonprofits continue to experience declining retention and donor loyalty rates despite powerful new data tools at their disposal.

That’s the result of exclusively relying on behavioral donor data, and not taking into account attitudinal information, when creating campaigns.

The smart folks at Donor Voice are doing some fascinating work with attitudinal donor information, not only how to articulate it, but also how to use it to turbo-charge donor programs (Check it out some of their work here.)

In fact, smart direct marketing fundraisers know it is — and always has been — a stool, not a tent. And, of course, the sturdiest stool is one supported by three legs:

  • Data/Analytics (Use what we know about donors’ behaviors to define analytical models.)
  • Strategy (Use the models AND what we discover about donors’ attitudes to design a predictive strategic plan.)
  • Creative (Use the models AND the strategic plan to shape a story/message/offer — considering all the above — to motivate donors to give.)

Diminish or overly strengthen any one of the legs, and the stool becomes unstable.

So let’s keep talking about the value of data, and how to improve its collection, organization and analysis, because that engine keeps the wheels turning in ever more powerful ways.

But the rubber actually meets the road when the data we have about donors transform into the words and pictures that compel them to act. That’s a transformation that has more to do with how messages resonate within a donor’s heart, and how well a nonprofit demonstrates its stewardship, than it does on a cohort’s past behaviors.

That transformation requires solid behavioral and attitudinal data, which drive intelligent strategies, which, in turn, direct deliberate creative solutions.

A three-legged stool.



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