Why Donor Data Reviews Needn’t Lead to “Paralysis by Analysis”

Among the many fables of the ancient Greek philosopher Aesop is that of the Cat and the Fox. In the tale, both animals are on the run from a pack of hungry dogs. Cornered, the cat does the only thing it knows how to do: it climbs a tree. But the fox is smarter than the cat. It knows a whole bunch of tricks. So, it carefully assesses the situation. The fox locates a variety of escape routes. Then it compiles a mental list of pros and cons for each alternative. After that, the fox computes each plan’s odds for success. And while the fox is considering his many, many options—he’s caught—and promptly gobbled up by the dogs.

The moral of this fable is that overthinking a problem can be less than helpful. It can, in fact, be quite counterproductive. After all, having too many choices can lead to taking no action at all. It’s a paradox that is popularly called “Paralysis by Analysis.” (Anyone who has dined at a restaurant with a six-page menu knows how intimidating an abundance of options can be. Just order the cheeseburger!)

Of course, this analysis paralysis problem is often the bane of fundraisers. Whether it’s performed for a school, a hospital, a university, a charity, or any other nonprofit organization (NGO), sifting through a lengthy list of potential donors can be so overwhelming that one doesn’t know where to start. So, one doesn’t start at all.

This was the very problem addressed by Julia Naranjo Upham, CFRE, Vice President, Individual Giving at Conservation International and Taylor McMillan, Vice President, Individual and Foundation Giving at the National MS Society, during their presentation at the recent 2023 AFPI CON international fundraising conference in New Orleans. (AFP is the Association of Fundraising Professionals, a philanthropic trade organization founded in 1960. DonorSearch was also represented among the 2023 conference’s presenters!)

Upham and McMillian’s helpful presentation, appropriately titled, “Digging for Gems: Using Portfolio Reviews and Research to Get to the YES!”, explored how tough it can be to identify the most likely donors from massive contact lists. As reported in The NonProfit Times, the two speakers recommended that fundraisers perform regular portfolio reviews to keep data current and accurate, select the right people to conduct these portfolio reviews, and choose helpful indicators relevant to their organizations.

In service of this, it’s helpful for fundraisers to remember the four vital elements:

1.    Understand donor motives.

2.    Listen to the donor.

3.    Appreciate the value of research experts.

4.    Get out of the data and go out with people.

To better help you understand this content, it’s helpful to hear from the presenters directly. “Some fundraisers have enormous and well-staffed research teams to provide them with a list of donors to ask and when,” Upham and McMillian told the conference attendees. “Fundraisers need that right balance within their donor portfolios of suspects, prospects, and current donors, and to know how to use the tools that you do have available to find donors with the greatest potential for giving.”

Upham then noted, “A common trend that we see is fundraisers wanting to have an absolutely perfect picture of their donor before they make an ask. While it’s important to be well-equipped with the right information, the most important part is actually talking to your donors. You can slice and dice all day long, but ultimately you need to get that gift.”

Fortunately, you need not have the kind of large fundraising staff Upham and McMillian describe to create and properly manage a donor list. Today, many of the steps Upham and McMillan suggest for “Getting to YES!” can actually be automated. This is one of the many benefits provided by advances in artificial intelligence (AI), which can reduce both the time it takes to complete the process and the number of people required to do it. For example, the AI at the heart of DonorSearch AI routinely scrubs its donor lists for timeliness and accuracy. It also targets high-value prospects and develops custom messaging targeted directly at each potential donor’s individual interests.

         Moreover, DonorSearch Ai is an application that helps non-profit organizations identify potential donors by analyzing donor behavior along a number of axes. By pairing messages with each recipient’s individual sympathies/loyalties, DonorSearch makes acquiring donations far more efficient, effective, and cost-effective.

Specifically, DonorSearch helps your organization:

  • Identify donors who have a capacity to give and have an affinity for your cause.
  • Expand your prospect list with our philanthropy-focused prospect search database.
  • Predict a prospect’s giving capacity with accurate, secure giving intelligence data.

To learn for yourself just how automation resources can help you and your organization avoid paralysis by analysis, please feel free to contact our team of experts to arrange your demo of DonorSearch AI today.

Additional Resources

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