January is the month in which New Year’s resolutions die. So, what better way to keep resolutions than to make them at the end of January—so as to not watch them wilt away in the middle of the month? Aside from your typical diet, fitness, and “shedding vices” resolutions, it’s also worthwhile to set some areas of improvement for work life.
If you work in advancement and your resolutions don’t include data, then you’re in for some trouble. With the changing nature of our industry, a failure to invest in data will hurt the quality of your team’s decision making. After all, leveraging data can result in improved insights, more reliable contact with your donors, and more efficiency across your entire operation.
The best part? You can never put too much work into your data. Since things are always changing and there are thousands of data points to collect on donors, there’s always something to add or improve.
Here are some great data resolutions for advancement services staff in 2016:
1. Append: Buy into Big(ger) Data.
Data is becoming increasingly more affordable—and there’s plenty of it. IBM states that the world creates over 2.5 quintillion bytes of data per day and that 90% of today’s data has been created in the past two years.
Because of the wide availability of data, this means you can get more information than ever on your donors. However, only do so if it helps you to accomplish your goals. The never-ending struggle with data is to differentiate between what is interesting and what is important. Focus on the data that will give you a better picture of your alumni, donors, prospects, or organizations.
Start out by conducting screenings to find linking data (that is, information that can be used as a primary identifier to link to another data source). Email addresses, cell phone numbers, and licenses can all be valuable in seeking out new data for constituents.
2. Review your data policies and procedures.
New year, new look at how you collect and record data. It’s not a bad time to check if your procedure manuals are still valid, or if they’re in need of a refresh. It’s also a great opportunity to connect or reconnect with offices outside of advancement. By sharing your procedures with others, they can begin to understand how the data they maintain impacts data used by advancement. For example, connecting with the financial aid team can help your advancement office steward donors who fund scholarships. Up-to-date financial aid award data means that we can show donors the impact of their gifts with real names and faces.
In addition, remind your constituents of your data sharing policies (for example, how you don’t share data with third parties for profit), and have them verify their contact information. It’s a good opportunity for engagement and data collection. To make it more fun, add incentives and run a social media campaign to collect that information. A drawing to win a school spirit pack just for confirming my email address? Yes, please.
3. Do a data integrity raking.
Look at your data on a regular basis to find inconsistencies. Once you’ve identified those pieces of essential data to your operation, make sure to monitor them for usability and freshness. Check for duplicate or poorly formatted email addresses among records. Do certain records have emails without the @ sign? Do you have phone numbers with letters instead of numbers? Clean that stuff up!
Likewise, be aware of email addresses from outdated domains. I’m not saying that people don’t still have a prodigy.net addresses, but there’s probably a newer one out there… (I hope.)
Handle the information that must be handled, but if you can take a hands-off approach, then don’t touch it. Set up tracks or triggers to take care of repeatable processes. This helps clear the way for human interaction, which is where the real value is.
5. Invest in analytics.
…Even if means seeking out an analytics service. Data alone isn’t enough; it’s all about having insights to act on. Data must be digestible, and you have to be able to do something with it.
Take time to show advancement team members how to get and use data. If you have a particularly great sense of your database, show people where they can find answers to the common questions they have. Making others self-sufficient will help free up your time from easily repeatable requests.
Talk to other areas about their training needs—not just on the database, but on all of the tools that are available. What would they like to do better? What do they spend too much time on? By understanding the programs and goals of your coworkers, you can help them refine their processes with technology. Show them how to cut unnecessary steps out of their processes and how to get to the answers they seek faster. Classes that may be helpful range from database basics, to the specifics of reports, to advanced Excel functions.
Taking on one or two of these points will help greatly throughout the year. It also makes for some great budget planning for the end of the fiscal year, or for going into the next business year.
For more of my thoughts on achieving success with data, download EverTrue’s whitepaper “The Art of Fundraising With Data Science” (written by Cornell University’s Keith Hannon with accompanying insights from me and other data professionals).
Matt Gullatta is the director of advancement services at Ashland University. Since becoming an advancement services professional in 2007, Matt has made it a personal mission to make data accessible, reliable, and fun! You can find Matt on Twitter, likely chasing down big data and analytics trends or posting animated GIFs.