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A proud profession

A couple of years ago I was at the Fundraising and Philanthropy Forum and I heard John Jeffries of CBM give a presentation on the state of the fundraising profession. During this talk, he said something like:

No one leaves school and says, ‘yes, I’m going to have a career as a fundraiser!’

It would seem that being a fundraiser is not a sexy profession. At times the way people talk about fundraisers, I’m wondering whether the phrase should be ‘never discuss sex, religion, politics or fundraising.’

Recently personal experiences have shown me that far needing to whisper ‘I’m a fundraiser’, people should be shouting it from the roof-tops with pride.

I’ve always known that fundraising changes lives. There have been times when I’ve seen it’s impact.  Yet it’s only recently that I’ve really understood what ‘life-changing fundraising’ really is.

It took for a person dear to me to be in dire need of vehicle modifications in order to maintain his independence for me to really see how powerful fundraising can be.

Less than 2 months ago, I was sitting have a conversation with Andrew about his increasing difficulty lifting his wheelchair into his car. His struggle to get in and out of the car was getting too much. ‘I’ll just have to quit TAFE’ he said. ‘And organise some other way to get my groceries.’

With a price tag of anything from $8,500 up to $20,000, depending on the option he chose, it did seem hopeless.

I went away and thought about it. I wasn’t ready to give up. I came back and said, ‘you’re right, we mightn’t be able to raise the money, but I know I’ll always regret it if we didn’t try.’


Little did I know that within 2 months, we would have already raised close to $3,000. We may only be a third of the way there – and what an emotional rollercoaster it has been – yet hope has returned.

When your profession changes people’s lives like this, then there’s plenty of reasons to be proud.



The nuclear fundraiser: 3 figures every data analyst should know

Next week I’ll be attending one day of the Fundraising Institute of Australia’s conference. After some recent interactions with fellow fundraisers, I’m walking into this conference trying to prepare myself for anything. I wouldn’t be surprised if the next fundraiser I met was a nuclear physicist in a former role, a funeral parlour director or a pole dancer.

It seems John Jeffries, the CEO of CBM is right. To paraphrase what I heard him say once: no one leaves school and says ‘I want to be a fundraiser.’ I certainly didn’t! (This is, of course, presuming that as a database manager / data analyst, I am a fundraiser. But that’s a whole different debate).

Given people don’t seem to ‘decide’ to become a fundraiser, people certainly don’t go to ‘fundraising college.’ When I think back to when I first started working with fundraising data, I could have benefitted from a few ideas of where to start. In that vain, I’m offering up the 3 figures every data analyst should know.

Figure 1: How many active donors do you have?

I know, this seems so basic but you’d be surprised how many people have trouble answering this question. The trouble comes not from inadequate databases (although this can be a factor and certainly a good excuse!). It usually comes from a lack of clarity about what an active donor is. Whether you decide an active donor is anyone who has donated in the last 6 months, 12 months or 24 is not nearly as important as picking a definition and sticking to it. Once a charity does this, it can know over time whether it’s going up, down or to planet Jupiter. The latter could be interesting but I’m sure your board of directors would prefer you were going ‘up.’

Figure 2: What ‘types’ of donors do you have?

When I say donor type, I’m not referring to whether they are companies or individuals. I’m also not referring to whether your donors are the ‘glass half full’ or ‘glass half empty’ types. Quite simply: it is what methods do your donors respond to or support? (There’s probably a far better word than ‘type’ for this; however it eludes me at this time. Perhaps I should have substituted that word for any random word… like ketchup maybe?)

Typical ‘ketchups’ include: Regular Givers/Pledgers, Community Fundraising Sponsors (e.g. city to surf; host a morning tea; the office staff come dressed as an antelope day… that kind of stuff…), Eventers (dinners, lunches, balls, high tea… you know the kind), Direct Mail/Marketing responsive donors), Bequests etc.

Why do you care about ‘ketchups’?

It can make an enormous difference to your results. At the very least, I think every analyst should know how many donors they have who have DM responsive, regular givers and then, if you like, the rest. If they can tell you more than that, woohoo! Chain them to a desk and don’t let them leave – they’re a keeper. (For the record, I’ve only managed to get clear in my head DM, RG and the rest, so I’m certainly not chained to any desk… yet).

Figure 3: How ‘matured’ are your donors?

I hear the word matured and I think of a fine cheese, or a red wine. With the utmost respect, I’d like to say that donors are similar. Let’s presume that we have two charities. For the first, I’ll use my fictitious charity – the flamingo protection foundation; the second, I’ll call the Quidditch Mission.

Each has 5,000 active DM responsive donors (defined as anyone who donated in the last 12 months to a DM campaign). For the sake of argument, let’s presume each charity deploys the same fundraising strategy and activities for 12 months. Let’s even presume that the donors give exactly the same average donation over the next 12 months and I’ll make that an even $100.

At the end of the 12 months, the Flamingo Protection Foundation has raised $350,000 from the donors who were active at the start of the year and the Quidditch Mission has raised $200,000.

They started with the same number of donors, did the same thing and got the same average donation (in my hypothetical world). So why are they so different? Quite simple: the Flamingo Protection Foundation donors were more ‘matured’ than those from the Quidditch Mission. Translated into numbers, those who save Flamingoes from the evil clutches of the red queen for croquet enslavement ‘renew’ at a rate of 75%. These are donors who were not ‘new donors’ in the previous year. In fact, it’s unlikely they were even ‘new’ the year before that. These people have been around for some time just like Alice herself. The Quidditch Mission donors on the otherhand are relatively ‘fresh’; a more recent invention. These guys only renew at a rate of 40% in the first 12 months and therein lies the difference. (To be more realistic, the flamingo supporters would probably also give a higher value of donation than the broomstick soccer nuts but let’s just glance over that).

So, that’s figure 3. Go quiz your data analyst and see whether they can tell you (in raw numbers or in percentages of active donors) how ‘mature’ your donors are. If they don’t know; ask for the retention rate. That alone may give you an indication. If they can’t give you either of those numbers, then I think we’ve located someone who was a scuba diving trainer in their former career and has yet to adjust to fundraising data analytics.

Who to invite to your major donor event: Tweedledum or Tweedledee?

If you’re a data person in a not for profit, I’m sure this is a familiar scenario. ‘We want to have a major donor event… a tour of the facilities, a service manager will speak… could you find us some donors to invite?’ Ok, I exaggerate. Maybe you’re a lucky database manager and the fundraiser asks you for all donors who have given say $1000 or more. After some ferreting in the database, you come up with a list and send it back to the fundraiser. Let’s say there are two people on your list – tweedledum and tweedledee.

Meet tweedledum.He meets your fundraiser’s criteria – he has given one donation of $1000 last year.

Now meet tweedledee.  He’s given the same amount of money – $1000 last year, however he knows the chairman, is managing director of a well known hardware franchise and already attended the Organisation’s gala dinner.

Ok, fundraisers, it’s time to vote.

I’m imagining that many fundraiser’s would pick Tweedledee – after all you know he has a stronger connection to the Organisation. Some of you may pick Tweedledum thinking that this is a trick question. Well, I’ve got news for you, it IS a trick question. However the answer may not be what you think.

Tweedledum and Tweedledee are actually the same donor. The difference is that Tweedledum is in your database with the information recorded above (1 gift of $1000). The extra things listed about Tweedledee are all the things the fundraiser’s know but haven’t put in the database! So if the aim of this event was to capture donors who had never met the chairman, or knew little about our cause, we’d look mighty silly inviting Tweedledee. If we were looking for donors to nurture, Tweedledum may be overlooked for lack of history – what a lost opportunity!

How much do you know about your donors that isn’t in your database?