Written by Elisa Shoenberger
What a datapalooza! The APRA IL Fall Conference was a blast. We had the three rock star data analytics gurus, Josh Birkholz, Peter Wylie, and Kevin McDonnell instruct and inspire us in the wonderful world of data analytics. We had attendees from all over the US and even a few from Canada! We here at APRA IL are so pleased at the quality of attendees and speeches of the event.
To give a brief recap, we began with networking roundtables over breakfast. I hosted one table roundtable where we brainstormed about new ways to find prospects and how to implement data analytics into our everyday jobs. This gave us a chance to learn from our peers about their challenges and successes. Upstairs, we had a photographer taking professional headshots so we could spruce up our profiles.
Our first speaker, Josh Birkholz, a principal at Bentz Whaley Flessner (BWF), gave a wonderful talk on the state of data analytics in the business and the nonprofit worlds. Big companies like Target and UPS have made extensive use of analytics to segment their customers or to predict future engine failures. Target has even put microchips in some shopping carts to see how people move them around the store! Fundraising shops can benefit significantly from employing data analytics in their operations. Josh Birkholz outlined five ways that analytics can be used to gain business insight. First, you can profile your constituents to get a descriptive analysis of your constituents. This would be traditional market research. Second, you can conduct a descriptive analysis at the program level. Third, you can make your data accessible through data visualizations. After all, we have to sell the data. Fourth, you can conduct predictive modeling to predict constituents and process outcomes. Fifth, you can forecast or simulate future business outcomes like future cash in or campaigns. That’s powerful for any organization. From BWF research of organizations that have implemented analytics, 91% of established programs have observed positive results while the rest have not had enough time to see the benefits. Very compelling argument for the power of analytics! Josh Birkholz ended with the apt quotation from Hal Varian: “I keep saying that the sexy job in the next 10 years will be statisticians. And I’m not kidding.”
In the afternoon, Peter Wylie and Kevin McDonnell, coauthors of Score!, walked us through a model that they created. They worked with Rush University Medical Center to model patients and alumni for this presentation. In order to create a predictive model, three things are needed: a data file, statistics software, and something to predict. It’s important to have a solid question before you go into the data. They began by walking us through a simple scoring model to predict lifetime giving on the data set from Rush University Medical Center. They walked us through some easy data transformations where we changed data to 1s and 0s to indicate if we had data or not. We then looked the various variables in statistical software and created a score based on our findings. It was a great opportunity to see “behind the curtain” of modeling. Too often we get caught up on how complex things can be, so it was nice to see how a model was done.
The dynamic data duo pointed out some useful tips for individuals who want to start implementing data analytics. First, do not let messy data get in the way of modeling. Clean data is obviously better but you do not want to wait for the perfect conditions to learn how to make your own models. No time like the present to start. Second, never get rid of data; old data is useful! Third, it may be useful to look back at old models. Kevin McDonnell talked about how he’ll revisit past models in six months to a year to see how effective it was and build on that knowledge. The more you do it, the better (hopefully) you get. Fourth, no matter what you do, research should look at the individuals before they get rolled out to gift officers. We’ve all learned hard lessons about sending spreadsheets to gift officers. We have look at the individuals that score well and determine the next steps with them. Do not blindly push people out, at least at the Major Gift Level.
That’s just a taste of the magic at the conference! I can’t wait for our next conference! Hope to see you there!
(Photo Credits: Rodney Young)