CoolData blog

28 January 2010

The patience of Peter

Filed under: Peter Wylie — Tags: , , — kevinmacdonell @ 2:08 pm

Anyone who’s followed this blog for a while will know that I’m a disciple of Peter Wylie, a pioneer in predictive modeling for fundraising. So I’ve been waiting for the latest issue of CASE Currents magazine to come in the door, knowing that it features an interview with him.

Well, turns out it’s online – for the next couple of weeks, anyway. CASE’s Diane Webber-Thrush sits down with Peter for a piece called Adjusting Your Gaze.

Peter is always working on something new, often in collaboration with John Sammis of Data Description, publisher of DataDesk. But his message is consistent: Institutions of higher learning are sitting on huge piles of data that they could leverage for fundraising, and too many institutions just aren’t doing it.

Part of his consistent message is that it doesn’t have to be complicated. In his books and presentations he resists the pull to make data mining sound exotic or difficult for regular folk to understand. Unlike a lot of us, he doesn’t talk much about multiple regression.

Of course, he could if he wanted to. I myself didn’t know a thing about regression until he and John Sammis introduced me to it. But I guess he’s thinking of all the fundraisers (non-data geeks for the most part) that he might leave in the dust.

A consistent message, a simple method, with proven results. No wonder there is so much interest in the field. And yet …

And yet: Why do I get the feeling that there are a heck of a lot more people “interested” and not so many people “doing”? Is the allure surrounding the terms ‘data mining’ and ‘predictive modeling’ really doing the field any favours?

Peter Wylie tells CASE Currents that the education sector is only just beginning to realize the full potential of its own data. Keep in mind, he’s been working in this field since 1997.

Pioneer, yes. AND a very patient and optimistic guy.



  1. Thanks for the mention, Kevin! I’ve been enjoying the blog. Which I discovered through our mutual friend, Peter Wylie. He’s one of a kind.
    This link will turn into a pumpkin in 30 days, but CURRENTS content is always available online to CASE members.

    Comment by Diane Webber-Thrush — 28 January 2010 @ 3:02 pm

  2. Right on. Higher ed is glacial, risk-averse. But the appropriate implementation will save our asses twenty years hence.

    Comment by JKP — 28 January 2010 @ 3:04 pm

  3. Some of my colleagues here are a bit wary of pigeon-holing individual people, their philanthropic desires, and their personal stories into a mere score. For all the supportive evidence that our modeling scores are predicting the “right” population, these colleagues will point to the planned gift from the little-old-lady who had no wealth indicators and little previous interaction with us…what’s a girl to do?

    Comment by Diane — 28 January 2010 @ 4:02 pm

    • Yeah, I hear you. The way I see it (and the way these folks ought to see it), there is no conflict between giving a person a score and valuing them as a human being with a narrative that isn’t quantifiable. They are different things. A predictive score doesn’t supplant anything – least of all the flesh-and-blood knowledge that front-line fundraisers gain from personal interaction. The thing is, we’ve got something like 8,000 people who are old enough to cultivate for Planned Giving. I’d like to see how a PG officer intends to build personal relationships with that many people. Some prior screening based on probability is simply the most responsible approach – else we’re wasting our time and possibly donor dollars as well. That little old lady in your scenario does have a chance of scoring well in a predictive model, because it usually isn’t about wealth indicators – it’s about a certain combination of traits that characterize a Planned Giving donor. The only alternatives are that she self-identifies, or that a gift officer just happens to get to know her. Predictive modeling for PG is tricky and far from perfect – but the alternatives are matters of mere chance. See my earlier post on this subject: Slide rule vs. Art in fundraising

      Comment by kevinmacdonell — 29 January 2010 @ 8:31 am

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