These words by Deming are often used by evangelists of the data sciences to make one specific point. Trust is not an effective strategy. But insight is.
The modern major-gift fundraising program is at a crossroads of business model maturity. In a sector historically managed by top-of-mind relationship management, the scale of expectations have pushed us to new grounds. It is borderline irresponsible to enter multi-billion dollar, multi-year campaigns without a solid footing of data.
Great historians, and even some great economists will point out you must look back before going forward. Great data scientists will say you must look forward before going forward. Certainly both the rearview mirror and the windshield have importance.
Looking back, it is of utmost importance to understand “why.” One shouldn’t simply look back at past giving and make assumptions about trends. The trends reflect drivers. These drivers might be the tenure of your team, the method of prospect assignment, performance metrics, organizational culture, and external realities such as macroeconomic circumstances.
Some of these historic drivers were immovable. But some of them were based on choices. Understanding the choices that might be made through organizational leadership and business model modification are the core learnings of this historic view.
Looking forward, one must not just project, one must simulate. “What if” might not be a great phrase when studying history; but, it is the best phrase for studying the success yet to come. Using these drivers discovered historically and understanding the areas of realistic influence, these simulations can become a reality.
For example, if the yield rate of fundraisers was determined by inconsistent ratings or young tenures of gift officers, try normalizing the rating denominator to external wealth or ramp-up yields based on the tenure ramp-ups. If ask levels or portfolio composition were the greatest determinants of past inefficiencies, provide solicitation training or commit to a sustainable portfolio maintenance regimen.
Data is a tool that can effectively move you and your program past the inherent confirmation bias of gut-based decision making. But for the data to provide real insight, you must have a clear view to the past and the future. So yes, in God we may trust; but for our next campaign, we will bring the data.
BWF Insight Analysis provides clients with the back and front view for their campaign planning needs. Contact us today to launch your expedition to this new data frontier.