Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Anecdotal vs Empirical Donor Evidence- Which One Drives Your Strategy?

Sitting at an airport gate is a lot like looking at a donor spreadsheet. You never know what you're going to see. I'm sitting at a gate right now waiting for a flight an it's the best people watching ever. But I can only tell you what I hear and observe. All of that is filtered through my cynical, I travel too much, snarky lens. 

It's the same way for you and your donors. I can't tell you how many times I sit down with clients and I ask them why they're doing something the way they are and often times I hear this: "one time a donor (insert name here) said that they either did or didn't like it and so because of that we do it this way". 

We spend a lot of time dispelling myths and debunking those one off stories. We in the fundraising world tend to believe that as the gospel truth and then run with it. What many of us fail to realize is that those are the outliers, you know, like the lady who is sitting at the gate having a conversation with herself about how much she misses TWA. Far too often we plan for the minority and the majority suffers. 

We take those stories at their face value and never doubt the source behind them. Instead, we can combat this with qualitative and empirical data. I go back to my point of comprehensive donor and alumni surveys and feedback mechanisms. I'm headed out to a client now to present their survey data and boy is it a gold mine! After pouring over more than 1500 responses, I've found their medians, their donors desired and needs and figured out what they're doing well and what needs to improve. And of course there are the outliers, like the guy who hates the pickles in the cafeteria (I think he's TWA lady's future spouse). But we can now build an entire plan based on real data and analyze it for the deep truths buried within. 

No longer will they have to rely on stories and one offs to control their strategy. They have all the evidence they need. If you haven't done a comprehensive study recently, why not? How do you build your program without data? As you begin to fly the friendly (bumpy) skies of change, make sure you have real evidence to guide you as you make strategic decisions for the future.

As always I'd love to hear your feedback or if you have questions on the survey or data collection process, just post below!



  1. All I could think of was how many times I heard this as the reason for something from the CEO in my prior job or others in reference to why the CEO wanted something a certain way. Unfortunately, no amount of qualitative and empirical data could sway her.

  2. This is so true. You hear people say that they won't read a fundraising letter more than one-page long, yet longer letters consistently do better than shorter ones when you look at the statistics. Personal opinions are just that. When a donor makes a complaint/comment, that is just one person's opinion. We have to always look at the evidence.