Mining data for gold

by Jini Stolk

People know that I’m not really a data-analyzing, number-crunching kind of person – but I’m going to talk about data and audiences once again. As I said in a recent post , I find myself getting excited about the untapped value of the information and insights in our databases. It almost makes me want to come back as a professional fundraiser, charged by a smart manager with the task of truly understanding the data and using it well.

Amelia Northrup-Simpson, writing for the National Arts Marketing Project emphatically reinforces what we should focus on: “Two decades of arts consumer study is clear. The metrics surrounding loyalty—keeping patrons coming back and increasing their investment—are the ones that really count when it comes to building a sustainable audience (and revenue) base.”

That’s why I’m glad that Creative Trust, with the help of the Ontario Trillium Foundation, was able to take a leading role in presenting Smart Data, a workshop series delivered by Young Associates to members of the Neighbourhood Arts Network and CPAMO. The November 2012 sessions reached over 46 smaller companies and independent artists; attendance grew to 59 in February. Word of mouth was strong for sessions whose names speak for themselves (“Managing Data, Policies and Procedures”; “Researching your Data: Advancing Marketing and Fundraising”; “Singing from the Same Songbook: Harmonizing Database & Accounting Software”; and “Managing up, Down and Across: A peer exchange.”). A condensed one-day workshop in Ottawa, presented through CPAMO’s networks, was equally well attended and received.

SOFII (the Showcase of Fundraising Innovation and Inspiration) posted another intriguing piece on the topic, an interview with Chuck Longfield, chief scientist at database giant Blackbaud. In Data is Gold , he wonders if “at least part of the problem is that, in the art and science of fundraising, data seems to fit mostly in the science bit whereas most fundraisers tend towards the arty side. Fundraisers are creative, imaginative, even intuitive. Data, by contrast, seems solid, complicated, unfashionable, perhaps even a bit unfriendly.”

The rest of the interview makes it clear that the simplest act of acknowledging a change of address can become a satisfying and important personal interaction with a donor.

Overall, the Smart Data workshop participants expressed a strong desire for consistent training and support in contact management, data strategy, and choosing the right database. When you consider the potential impact on our arts organizations, it seems like this should be an ongoing learning priority in our community.

I’d be eager to know who’s mining their data well, and what results they’re seeing.

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