A friend of mine recently gave me brilliant article from the Wall Street Journal by their UK editor, Matthew Gwyther, entitled “Big Data, Blunt Instrument.”
Gwyther talks about how “big data is the thing of the moment” and that companies (and non-profits) are using it as a way to figure out how to get customers (donors) the right content and understand who they really are. Large non-profits in the U.S. are spending gobs of money on it.
As Gwyther points out in his article, “The central argument about data’s power in the world of business [non-profits] is that it makes sellers [fundraisers] far wiser and effective when it comes to pitching stuff [mission and offers] to potential buyers [donors]. It gives them valuable knowledge about potential customers [donors] — what they think, what they’ve been buying [donating to] and therefore what they might be persuaded to buy [donate to] in the future.”
But then Gwyther says this: “These days what big organizations [non-profits] desperately lack with their customers is intimacy. They often don’t really know them that well at all. They are numbers, not names. The rise of the web has meant the death of the face-to-face. The personal. How different this is from retailing in the old days.”
Large non-profits are desperately trying to connect with their donors. Some of you who work with small non-profits might be envious of these organizations. I wouldn’t be.
You have a unique opportunity to be the “local butcher” of your particular mission. While the “Walmarts of the non-profit world” are trying to figure out how to put a face to their donors, YOU already know the faces of your donors. You know who they are, what their passions and dreams are, and how it relates to your mission.
As a small non-profit, you don’t have to worry about big data becoming dumb. The author tells a story about how he bought a plane ticket to Beirut. Well, as I’m sure most of you have experienced, every time he went on the Internet he was bombarded with ads to fly to Beirut… the problem was, he had already bought his ticket to Beirut. Sometimes big data doesn’t get it right.
But you can. The beauty of working at a small non-profit is that you have a built-in intimacy with your donor that the “big guys” envy. Embrace it, and continue to deliver incredible service to your donors. This is what sets you apart from your competition.
Now, for you “big guys” out there, there still remains hope. While you need big data to help you be efficient and to start creating the appearance that you know the donor, the way you really will create the intimacy that all large non-profits are seeking is to develop a strong mid-level and major gifts program.
We have reviewed many large non-profit donor pyramids. What’s constant in a majority of them is that there are “blockages” in the mid-level range. Why? Because, while these donors are seeking more from you in terms of personal contact, reporting back and just thanking them, they are being treated like numbers, not persons.
And unfortunately, we see very little thought or strategy in major gifts – sometimes barely a real program at all. So much money, time and resources are spent on the “big data” part of the operation that little is left for the middle and upper end of the file… you know, the part that is really trying to connect with donors.
A great mid-level and major gift program in ANY non-profit is like that local butcher down the street. He knows your name when you walk in. He knows what kind of steak you like. He knows what you’ll want next week.
If you don’t yet have a robust mid-level and major gift program, Richard and I urge you to start one. Remember, your donors are not just numbers and results from a campaign report. They are human beings with passion and dreams that want to help change the world. You’re only going to know what they really are when you can sit across the table from them and look them in the eye.
PS – For more help starting your own programs, check out our free White Paper on Cultivating Mid-Level Donors, along with our book about major gifts, It’s Not JUST About the Money.