CoolData blog

22 March 2010

Data mining is not a disruptive technology

Filed under: Front-line fundraisers — Tags: , — kevinmacdonell @ 7:51 am

Are you an experienced front-line fundraiser? Do you feel vaguely threatened by this whole data mining thing? Do you think all your ideas about how fundraising works are in danger of being supplanted by some computer-generated mumbo-jumbo?

Well, you needn’t.

Data mining is exciting, and powerful, and new to many of us. But in my view it is not a game-changer. Its arrival at your organization will not displace or invalidate anything you’ve come to know about how best to ask for a gift. It complements your strategy; it does not replace it.

In short, fundraising is still all about relationships. It will always be about relationships.

I’ll go even further, and say that front-line fundraisers are the real miners in the organization. Data miners are more like exploration geologists, pointing out the areas that might yield the most gold. “Dig here,” says the data miner to the fundraiser, “this ore body is likely to contain what you’re looking for.” And the fundraiser does the hard work, digging through the rock to find the nuggets within, using the same qualification tools he or she has always used: experience, personal contact, intuition.

The fundraiser can find gold without the data miner. But it’s not easy. He or she will dig anywhere, sinking dozens of useless shafts before striking a workable vein. Or maybe the fundraiser is into dowsing or uses amulets or crystals or something similarly occult to decide where to dig. That’s worked before. Not well, mind you. As they say, even a stopped clock is right twice a day.

The data miner, on the other hand, is useless without the fundraiser. Insight without action gets nowhere.

Marry the two, though, and you’ve got a powerful force. The data miner brings core samples and geological maps and insights into what lies hidden beneath the sod. Dig here, don’t dig there. No one’s skills become obsolete – the fundraiser still needs all his or her ‘traditional’ knowledge while digging. Only now, the chances that the digging will earn a return on investment are vastly improved. See? One set of skills complements the other.

What characterizes a fruitful relationship between these two camps is a sense of boundaries, a willingness to cooperate, and a certain amount of faith in methods employed by the other. The data miner may not really grasp the art of asking for a gift, the human element. And doesn’t need to. The fundraiser may not really grasp the science of segmenting the prospect pool for propensity to give. And doesn’t need to.

Both sides can learn more about what the other does, but it’s more important that each should treat the others’ domain of knowledge with respect.


Create a free website or blog at