Written by Sabine Schuller, Sr. Research Specialist, Rotary International
There must be a million resources about data analytics and statistics ranging from high school textbooks to blog posts commenting on the “big data” trend. By comparison, advice on non-profit oriented data analytics, never mind fundraising, is few and far between. For that reason alone Kevin MacDonell and Peter Wylie’s book Score! Data-Driven Success for Your Advancement is a welcome addition.
I see this book as a blueprint and encouragement for non-profits to use their data more effectively as they strive to improve their fundraising efforts. I appreciate the book’s emphasis on how to best introduce or increase data-driven fundraising decisions in a culture that might be new to data analytics and predictive models. What sets it apart from a statistics textbook is that in addition to providing mathematical background and case studies, it is also a primer on managing change. Best of all, it’s written in an engaging and absorbing way.
Score! paints a vibrant picture of fundraising office dynamics and its potential challenges, based both on Peter Wylie’s long consulting career and Kevin MacDonell’s personal experience growing into a full time data analytics position. While Peter Wylie has some strong opinions about the non-profit sector’s pace of adopting data analytics, the authors give credit where credit is due. They hold up the frontline fundraisers as master storytellers while spotlighting those who play with their nonprofit organization data like it was their personal sandbox. Score! discusses several ways to communicate a potentially new and disruptive idea to people who may not be data oriented. The authors want the technically skilled data evangelists to be successful and wisely highlight using interpersonal and communication skills in addition to facts. They also recommend evolutionary, not revolutionary steps.
Another of the book’s strengths is that it doesn’t just preach to the choir drinking the Kool-Aid. It also addresses the managers – those responsible for the big fundraising picture. The accessible writing style and content organized by area of responsibility helps busy managers absorb the content. Score! is also very good at anticipating and addressing counter arguments, and a manager might have several. For example, it discusses the pros and cons of options such as hiring a data analyst from the outside the organization, “growing your own”, or using an outside vendor.
The last part of the book focuses on case studies to explore potential data analysis projects for alumni as well as annual, major, and planned gifts. In this section, you may wish to pace yourself as there are many figures, tables, and graphs to absorb. The authors build their chapters carefully and clearly. They start with fundamental statistical concepts, build a simple example, follow with more advanced ideas, and only at the end talk about exceptions. Try limiting yourself to one chapter per day (or week) to make sure you can absorb it all and explain the concepts to others. You should also be aware that all of the nonprofit examples are from higher education. Their choice is understandable. Colleges and universities have the most resources and data available for this kind of work and the book is published by the Council for Advancement and Support of Education (CASE). While that can make it challenging for those in other non-profit sectors, here are several workarounds. One possible solution is to mentally substitute the name of your industry whenever you see “higher ed” and “donor” instead of “alumni”. Another possibility is to be open minded and learn about how a different kind of non-profit operates.
With its combination of a strong writing style and unique content, Score! is a book well worth reading, even if you have to do it on your time off. A current or hopeful non-profit data analyst, would enjoy and learn from all parts of the book. Fundraising directors and other decision makers in upper management would also profit, though they may choose to read the chapters which most pertain to their areas of responsibility. It’s even good for “experts” as a reminder that not all have their depth of knowledge and that everyone benefits when they stretch to bridge their organizations’ and co-workers’ gaps. Most importantly it provides encouragement and strategies for those who want to grow their nonprofits using data oriented strategies.
Want to learn more? Come to APRA Illinois’ Fall Conference October 3rd and learn from the authors how to put data analytics in practice for your organization!
Other reviews of the book: