Data — What is it Good for?

September 6, 2019

Edwin Starr wrote the song “War (What is it good for)” which included the answer — “Absolutely Nothing”. So, I won’t regale you with my singing, but Data — What is it Good for? And I will answer “Absolutely Nothing — unless you are prepared to analyze it”.

I have seen many different databases in my 20-plus years of fundraising and I have noticed the huge investments in software (sometimes up to $80,000) become glorified phone books. I have seen organizations where the fundraisers have no idea how to navigate the database. I have also seen organizations where they treat the database as the panacea of the fundraising program and having the database ‘rules’ dictate the business ‘rules’. Both extremes are not desirable. I would suggest that the database is a tool, a means to an end, not an end in and of itself. I wrote about this here.

But what about Big Data? Who owns the data? Do you subscribe to Wealth Ratings? Do you have a researcher on the team who analyzes hundreds of sites to compile a better picture of the prospect? Do you have anecdotal information in the donors’ file? Does the donor have access to his/her file if they wish?

Do you share mailing lists? (if you do, please stop it — it is a HUGE disservice to everyone) Do you list all 5 of Mr. Jones’ ex-wives? And all 13 of his kids? Do you have a copy of every single email that has been sent to Mr. Jones since the invention of the internet? I know I am getting silly, but the point I am trying to make is to ask if you have parameters around what information you gather and why.

Businesses are starting to realize that information is actually becoming a liability. For those that are not PCI-compliant, you may have donors’ credit card information in your database. That is a huge liability! So many organizations now use cloud services to store their information, but who owns the data in the cloud? Are the hosts allowed to comb through the data and procure their own information?

One of the biggest fundraising database companies out there is Blackbaud’s Raisers Edge (the ‘gold standard’ for most fundraising shops). One of the features they offer is a benchmarking feature, whereby they will compare your shop to shops of similar size, scope, etc. and benchmark you on the number of donors, average gift size, retention, etc. This gives me pause. I realize that the data is collected anonymously, but it seems way too easy to blur that line. At some point, I believe that the database companies will charge for the examination of this metadata. Some are even charging to compare year-over-year for your own data!

The same could go for all of the peer-to-peer fundraising platforms out there. Who’s data is it and what can it be used for?

As people’s data become one of their most precious commodities, we have to balance the need for data with the use of data.

Until next week.