CoolData blog

8 November 2011

An opportunity not to screw up

Filed under: predictive analytics, Private sector — Tags: , , , — kevinmacdonell @ 1:18 pm

It’s taken me a while to catch my breath after my recent return from Seattle, where I attended the inaugural DRIVE Conference, hosted by the University of Washington on Oct 26-27. DRIVE stands for Data, Reporting, Information and Visualization Exchange, which gives you an idea how diverse the group of 80 or 90 attendees was. I had conversations with people working in IT/Info Management, annual giving, prospect research, reporting, advancement services, data analysis — a real cross-section of disciplines that rarely meet in one room even within their own institutions.

I found an interesting thread weaving through the career histories of the people I met, one that I haven’t encountered in Canada so much: A lot of these people came to the non-profit world from the for-profit sector. Some of them were squeezed out by the recession; some didn’t feel secure in their jobs and fled of their own accord.

Meeting people who used to work as analysts for banks and telecom companies, I asked myself, “Wow, is this not an amazing opportunity?”

Hear me out, and tell me if I’m wrong about this. I’d honestly like to know.

Downsized or not, these are people who have taken a pay cut to work with us. As the economy recovers, some of them will return to the private sector. But I’m optimistic we can retain a lot of them, because it might not hinge on paying them high salaries so much as paying them our attention.

What do nonprofits have in spades? Meaning. We have meaningful work to do. Anyone who has cares that extend beyond getting a paycheque derives happiness from knowing that their work has real results in people’s lives, regardless of the sector they work in.

But a warning: This is a time-limited offer! These people have had enough time to realize that the nonprofit sector is stuck in the 1950s. The “innovations” that excite us make them yawn. They are restless to make investments and changes that will enable organizations to be effective in carrying out their missions. And we’d better listen, or frustrate them into leaving. The stakes are rather high.

I’d like to make a bold prediction, a prediction not based on modelling or statistics. I think our sector is about to undergo a transformation which will bring more progress in data-driven decision making in the next five years than we’ve seen in the last twenty. Provided, that is, we do not flush this opportunity down the toilet.

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