Thinking Outside the CRM

“If it’s not in the database, it didn’t happen.” How many times have we heard this in the course of our careers? Fundraising has become so increasingly data-dependent that it’s hard to imagine a time before advancement CRMs existed.  

CRMs are considered the single source of truth in an advancement enterprise, and data acquisition, integrity, and preservation are rightly seen as the responsibility of everyone in the office. 

So with all of the data that we steward as advancement professionals, it’s easy to forget just how much data we’re actually ignoring. But it’s true: we generate and subsequently ignore an untold amount of microdata in the course of doing advancement business. 

From event details to email campaigns, from telefund calls to volunteer activities, an extraordinary amount of behavioral data on alumni and friends never finds its way back to your CRM. While most advancement offices could tell you which constituents attended an event ten years ago, most could not tell you which of them opened the email that contained the invitation.

This is an observation, not a criticism. We have ignored such data for good reason. Only a few years ago it was necessary to scrutinize whether data had the long-term value necessary to justify the time and cost of keeping it. Organizations were hamstrung by the storage limitations of physical servers they maintained on premise. Cloud-based storage was considered “cutting edge,” and understandably, many institutions were wary of storing information in a location that wasn’t entirely within their control. 

And so, unless data had obvious utility, advancement services teams would disregard it to make room for data that tracked meaningful actions and outcomes. This is why event attendance is typically kept while the email open rate is typically not. How realistic is it that you might need to know whether someone opened a ten-year-old email?

But when it comes to data storage, the world has evolved for the better. It’s no longer necessary to deliberate about whether to keep the data you generate. In an era where cloud storage is so affordable, it is time to reconsider whether raw data we once thought was superfluous might indeed be worth keeping.

Consider the phonathon. Normally, advancement shops limit the data they sync from the phonathon back to their CRM to the most necessary elements:  pledges and gifts, address updates, contact preferences, and any other data required to maintain a long-term relationship with the donor. 

But what about the number of times each constituent was called? The dates and times these attempts were made? Which student was calling them? The number of minutes they stayed on the phone? This type of raw data usually stays inside phonathon software and is mainly used for call center performance reporting. 

In fact, your CRM may not even be designed to keep such data since it has been heretofore considered irrelevant. But, make no mistake – there is lots of hidden value inside the dusty annals of your phonathon.

To understand why raw data matters, let’s imagine two constituents. Each of them received 10 phone solicitation attempts during last fall’s phonathon campaign. Both individuals were coded as a “No Pledge” result. In the typical advancement office, when viewed through the CRM, each constituent had an identical experience:  same appeal code, 10 calls, same outcome.

Now imagine that one of those individuals answered the phone three times. The first two times they picked up, they said they were too busy to talk. The third time they picked up the phone, they engaged in a nine-minute conversation with the student caller. Let’s say the other individual didn’t pick up the phone until the 10th call attempt, at which point they abruptly cut off the caller after 10 seconds to say they weren’t interested in making a gift.

Did these two people really have the same experience? 

While the outcomes look the same, the raw data tells a different story. A data scientist might use such details to predict future outcomes or prescribe specific tactics. For example, the amount of time a constituent spends on a phonathon call might be predictive of their long-term likelihood to give. 

After all, whatever they were talking about, they clearly showed some interest in talking to the student. We never know whether data will be predictive until a model is built, but you’re likely to find that this data will strengthen your analysis. 

Emma Hinke, Director of Data Science at BWF, commented: “Whenever I’ve been able to get this raw data, it has proven immensely useful in modeling and analyzing constituencies.” In other words, this data has potential value to the entire advancement office both in the short and long term. Given the low cost and time investment required to upload raw data to the cloud, preserving such records makes sense.

If you are reading this and worrying that you’re squandering data that has potential value, rest assured that you may be able to retrieve it. The type of data described here is usually found inside tools such as phonathon software, marketing software, or even in other pockets on campus. If you can’t retrieve it yourself, contact your software vendor and ask them to find a secure means of sharing it with you.

While it’s a nice saying, it’s not entirely true that whatever happens outside the database “didn’t happen.” There’s a whole world of activity happening outside what we have long considered our “single source of truth.” It is time to redefine the CRM as advancement’s primary source of truth–the source for all the information advancement teams need at their fingertips. 

As for the digital byproducts generated by software in our ecosystem? That is also “truth.” In an age when we can conveniently store it at such minimal cost, we may find ourselves very grateful that we did.

On March 27 at 12:00 ET / 9:00 PT when Mike and I will be joining Louis Diez of the Donor Participation Project for a LinkedIn Live. So, if you’re interested in talking with us about how the value of data is a changing equation, keep your eyes open on our feeds and we will share the link soon. And when you’re ready to change the industry with us, let us know!

0 0 votes
Article Rating
Notify of
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments