Data and creativity

Over at Beth’s Blog she’s discussing the value of quantitative and qualitative data in not for profits (translated – numbers and stories). Beth says that she likes to start with numbers and then use qualitative data to explain what those numbers actually mean. She quotes one of her twitterer followers (@orgnet) who says:

‘turning data into stories is the real trick.’

I’ve made a note of this for my resume. I have such trouble explaining to people what I actually do. I’ve had job titles like ‘research and reporting analyst’, ‘data analyst’ and ‘database manager’. Yet these seem misleading. People meet me and immediately I’m that ‘uncreative black and white numbers geek’. (I’m not disputing the ‘geek’ part, athough I prefer the term ‘quirky!)’. What I am disputing is the idea that data and creativity DON’T go together. When people find out that I am an artist in my spare time, I get some very strange looks. A data person cannot of created these.

And so it is that I’m delighted to read Beth’s post emphasising that data (quant and qual) should be used to ‘paint pictures’ in fundraising.

Perhaps all data analysts should have their job title changed to storytellers.

At this point I cannot do Beth’s post justice. The discussion of appropriate collection measures for qualitative data was a little too much for my brain on a Sunday morning. So instead I’m going to suggest the simplest of qualitative data exercises.

Open the mail.

Yes, you read right. Open the mail.

If I had my way, every member of the fundraising department would open the mail at least once a month. Here’s a few things to look for:

  • Names – are your donors called Dorothy? Chances are she’s not 35. Or are you seeing names like Kylie – she’s not 80. Age is a data field often missing. So any sense you may get from this exercise is a bonus.
  • Handwriting – an obvious application is once again hinting at donor age. However it doesn’t end there. Are supporters sending messages that are all squished? Perhaps you need to give them more room for comment.
  • Language – your Organisation may mandate the use of politically correct, or clinically appropriate terms, but what language are you donor’s using to describe your services and work? I don’t discount the need for using appropriate language but sometimes checking this against your donor’s language is a useful way of spotting a disconnect.
  • Addressing – do your supporters use your reply paid envelope or address their own and affix a stamp? Do they address it to the CEO? Do they use ‘address labels?’ (I can tell you the names of charities who’ve been communicating with our supporters simply by the stickers our supporters are putting on mail to us!)
I’ll add one word of caution. If you think you spot a trend from this exercise e.g. your supporters don’t like the premium / freemium you sent, then its time to get out your quantitative tools and check your hypothesis before making any sweeping changes toy our fundraising program.
That caveat aside, get out your letter opener and start slashing. I’d be interested to hear what you find!
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Posted on September 4, 2011, in Data, Direct Mail, Fundraising, Not for Profit and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. Nice post. Love your artwork. You are right, data researchers, dataheads, whatever you want to call them (you) are storytellers. Keep preaching that. Thanks for your great blog.

  1. Pingback: What’s in a face? | The Data Monkey

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