Good answers are impossible without good questions.

And in the era of ‘big data’, integrated marketing, and CRM (by whatever name), knowing the right questions to ask is even tougher yet important to sort out, lest one become paralyzed by data.

In her article in Fundraising SuccessAre We Focused on the Wrong Metrics for the Long Run? — Angie Moore tries to inform that sorting out process. She adroitly reviews all kinds of metrics, providing a framework that can help separate the wheat from the chaff, but I worry that readers sitting in smaller nonprofits might find her discussion rather daunting.

Toward the end she asks the question … “Overwhelmed?” Many will say YES and, I’m afraid, tune out.

But then she adds this final paragraph:

“…I would challenge you to look at your reports and your metrics and ask yourselves “SO WHAT??” Don’t measure for the sake of measuring, don’t collect for the sake of collecting — make sure you have a good answer to the SO WHAT question. What is each of your metrics helping you do? How is it informing you? If you don’t have a good answer then kill the metric. There’s not enough time in the day.”

What a simple but effective question to start with … for any size organization! SO WHAT?

Start from the premise that any bit of information you collect is only worth collecting if it points you towards a marketing response your organization is capable of implementing. Then build up from that inherent ‘simplifier’ to more complex questions and answers (and opportunities) … always asking: “If I get the data to answer that next question, so what?” How will I use it? What marketing initiative will it allow me to take? And how valuable to my organization might that be?

If you force that discipline upon yourself as a fundraiser, you might find that you more easily penetrate a blizzard of unhelpful data, while better equipping yourself to improve results.

I’ll admit that the SO WHAT? question doesn’t point you toward the most critical information your organization might need to improve its fundraising performance. That will still vary organization by organization. Although for most nonprofits, Roger and I argue that the most critical metrics these days revolve around retention.

That said, if you are collecting and poring over data for which you don’t have a very clear SO WHAT answer to act upon, then I say, WHY BOTHER?


P.S. How simple can getting the data right be? Angie cites the example of typos in a donor’s name, which Target Analytics found resulted in a 10% drop in revenue from the typical aggrieved donor. We’re not talking regression analysis here folks!

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