In today’s post, HBG’s Data Insight lead Steve Grimes continues the discussion on how we begin insight work in fundraising. As prospect development professionals, our work in this area puts us on a parallel journey with frontline fundraisers: how do we use the information that’s in front of us to tell a compelling story that motivates people to action? Today Steve helps us take those next steps. ~Helen
I’ve always had a hard time truly engaging with novels. Beyond the risk of embarking on a story with a slow burn that could turn stale, I took more to non-fiction because I felt it had a point to make, always something to disclose. Fiction, on the other hand, only provided me with a story consisting of characters, settings, plot, conflicts, and resolutions. I read novels as a fictional account of someone and failed to see how, through narrative, they could also be read as a story of the human experience.
Though not as purposeful, this is the same narrative found within non-fiction. However, if literary critic Roland Barthes is correct, narratives in any form of communication are inevitable as that “narrative is international, trans-historical, trans-cultural: it is simply there, like life itself.” With this lens, narratives are as personal as they are shared among us. They provide an avenue to emphasize intimate singular experiences and situate those experiences within a shared awareness. They are a reflection of a structure. Good novels, those with good narratives, make it that both structures and the individual stories can be engaged.
I’m sure to the chagrin of my high school English teachers, I should have learned this lesson earlier. However, it is one I’m happy to share with you here because it will help me conceptualize and highlight how a good prospect research profile can be like a good novel. Just like a good novel can provide the connections between individual story and the larger environment, I contend that the prospect research profile can be used as a tool to do the same. As you start to collect data for analytic work-streams within your shop, and to stay aligned with the strategies of your organization, your prospect research profile can help you answer what type of data you should collect for analyses.
Prospect research profiles are varied – short one-pagers, notes on a database record, full dossiers – but they are usually descriptive in nature. Data within analytics is almost the opposite. Bounded, defined, and concise, something to be put into a structured dataset. Profiles are not structured datasets. But, they are novels.
Well, not novels in the strictest sense of the word. However, what we do provide in our profiles is an organizationally relevant story of our prospects. Their possible age, where they went to school, the path of their career, their social network. Characters are the prospects, settings their history, plots the next steps, conflicts the information we can’t confirm, and resolution, the work in itself. When it all comes together, the profile links your prospect to the institution to which you work for. The perfect profile.
Furthermore, a well-made profile tells an individual’s story in the context of larger structures. Estimates on real estate value, types of degrees, last position in relation to their first, amount of gifts to other organizations. All things that place a prospect to the institutions they are bound. Institutions all prospects are bound to. Profiles provide an avenue to emphasize the singular experiences of your prospects and situate those experiences within a shared understanding.
This is why I advocate that as prospect researchers we already live in the data necessary to do our analytics. That data still needs to be within a structured dataset however. So, when asking yourself what data is necessary to get started with prospect research analytics, use the narrative of your perfect profiles. The profiles that speak to what the organization needs to know about the prospect. What did those look like? Why were you telling the story you told? What were you trying to highlight as important? Why did you feel the profile narrative was important?
You know the answers to these questions. You created your profiles based on what your fundraising strategies were. What leadership needed at the time to make a decision. To account for different economic landscapes within your non-profit industry. Guiding organizational vision with data-based insights. The narrative of your profiles is a reflection of the data your organization deems important. In this way, your profiles are individual accounts of a larger story just waiting to be analyzed.
Why do I find this advice so powerful? Thinking about where to get started with analytic workstreams within your shop can be daunting. Getting started with a one-off project here and there might be easy enough. But maintaining and integrating applied data science into your shop means leveraging data that is tied to the strategies of the organization. Any success in this realm comes from understanding what that data looks like and how to find it. I’m sure we all know our profiles well. Start there.
As I start to read more novels, I’m recognizing the benefit of the slow burn. Gradually placing all the pieces into focus, being ever so careful to set the stage for an eventual payoff from the connections of those pieces. I feel that there is real benefit in having a conversation about the conceptuals of analytics before any discussion of the technique of analytics is staged. Just like our profiles, analytics are a representation of the human experience. Spending time to make sure what we are representing using analytics has all the promise of the slow burn. Deliberating on the structure of our analytics is just as important to what we do in those structures. In time, we will get to what we do in those structures. For now, let’s continue with the slow burn of understanding what analytics looks like within the prospect research space. The payoff will be worth it.
Next up, data governance.