CoolData blog

6 May 2010

Be a fundraiser first

Filed under: Training / Professional Development — Tags: — kevinmacdonell @ 11:55 am

While taking questions after a recent presentation, I was asked whether it is better for a would-be fundraising data miner to start out with a fundraising background and learn the stats and modeling along the way, or vice-versa. I readily answered that it’s better to build on a knowledge of fundraising, rather than have all the technical know-how without knowledge of fundraising.

On reflection, I’m not so sure one path is superior to the other. But I’ll stick with what came out of my mouth that day, as the true expression of how I feel.

Think of it this way. Before we set out to build any model, we need to define the business question. This question, or problem, comes first. It will decide what we are trying to predict. The technical stuff comes later. It’s not that the technical stuff is less important or less difficult. It’s that it’s not the thing that sets the process in motion. With a clear objective in sight, we are motivated to acquire the tools and skills we’ll need along the way.

Framing the question happens outside of the computer, in the real world. In the same way, if we bring a fundraiser’s attitude to modeling, we will ask the right questions, build better models, and focus our energies in the direction of success.



  1. Your “on reflection” opinion was better. Your original response seems to have been heavily influenced by your own experience.

    In your defense, a person who got into data modeling for advancement by the opposite path would have likely given the opposite answer.

    Regardless, either path has its merits. The primary advantage of coming from a background other than fund raising is that such a person is less likely to have any pre-conceived notions of what works and what does not work in getting gitfts.

    Thus, it is easier for them to be objective in their analysis. When making data-driven decisions, objectivity is crucial.

    Comment by Darren Cooper — 7 May 2010 @ 9:27 am

    • Yes, I guess I will have to plead guilty on that one! Let me restate it slightly. Most people who work in fundraising don’t have any statistics background, and find the subject forbidding. My point should have been that if such folks feel drawn to looking at their work through the lens of statistics and analytics, they ought to just jump right in. Upholding the virtues of one career path over another was probably not the most effective way to make the point.

      Comment by kevinmacdonell — 7 May 2010 @ 9:39 am

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