Laurie Schaecher“Garbage in, garbage out” might seem like a harsh way of looking at your decision-making process—but it’s accurate. The choices you make are only as good as the information they’re based on. Given this truth, doesn’t it make sense that you take every step possible to ensure that your approach to data gathering is as sound as it can be?

Discrete building blocks of knowledge (or at least well-informed assumptions) go into every decision we make—whether it is it simple or strategic. These decision-construction materials are in turn made up of smaller data points, and so on back to what we like to call “primary” data—the granular, raw, most basic level measurements that you often find in Excel spreadsheets.

In the world of event fundraising, there’s a wide array of primary information out there to choose from—the number of fundraising volunteers, event participants, how they heard about your cause, who raised money and how. And that’s just a quick skim of the surface. There’s more detailed information, as well: out of those who were involved in raising funds, how many people raised what percent of the total? Which of those were repeaters? What do they have in common that others don’t? And then of course there’s gender, age, shirt size and people who live in zip code 78613. The list of available data points is endless—your resources and mindshare bandwidth, however, are not. 

No matter how sophisticated your CRM, when gathering data it’s important to stay focused and keep two questions in mind. First, what kind of questions do you want to be able to answer with your analysis? And second, what is the data you need to collect in order to answer those questions?

Too many organizations spend a lot of time and resources collecting data that will never be actionable or support strategic goals. So make sure that when you begin the process—whether you’re doing it yourself, with the help of a CRM system or working with consultants like us—you make your choices through the lens of your mission-guided strategy. This means zeroing in on the kinds of metrics you require to make the informed decisions you need to make to accomplish your stated objectives—whether they have to do with resource allocation, fundraising, awareness, or anything else your organization has chosen to address.

As for what you end up doing with your data, it’s helpful to remember that what you gather should tell a story. As a storyteller, ask yourself what information is relevant to your audiences; what will help them be more insightful and effective when it comes to making decisions and/or taking action that help further the mission?

A good story should help an organization set priorities and identify opportunities. This is what we mean by “actionable.” Whatever the story—whether it’s “who raises the most money warrants greater allocation of resources,” or “we are/aren’t making inroads in recruiting the individuals we identified at the beginning of the year and this is why”—the idea is to provide analysis to your management team so they can act accordingly and get the job done.

On a cautionary note, keep in mind that it’s important to stay as close as you can to the primary data gathering approach and process. Some CRM systems are more customizable than others—all will provide templates and reports of what they think you need to know, but the level of flexibility and sophistication will vary. In this context, a good consultant can best help you when brought in early in the process to help determine your primary data gathering process and goals. The earlier you give it strategic, critical thought the better.

Finally, and also on the “be proactive” front, know that getting both data analysts and technologists involved in your organization’s overall strategy development phase can have great benefits. They’ll help your operation define what can and can’t be determined from data and how analysis can best support your decision making. And isn’t that what data collecting and use should be about? Intelligence in, intelligence out.

Laurie Schaecher provides data analysis and strategy to both consulting engagements and internal events, including Susan G. Komen’s 3-Day for the Cure. She has 15 years of event fundraising experience as both a practitioner and a consultant. Prior to joining Event 360, Laurie was Deputy Executive Director of the New York City Chapter of the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, overseeing all fundraising events including Team in Training and Light the Night. She has also lead teams focused on recruitment, marketing, fundraising performance, customer service, and volunteer coordination for events. Laurie holds a Bachelor of Arts from Middlebury College, and currently lives in North Carolina with her husband and 3 children.

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