I’ll be at the DMA Nonprofit Federation Conference in D.C. in a few weeks, and I’m feeling particularly excited. This is the first D.C. conference since DMA rebranded itself with a focus on data and, as a researcher, I’m passionate about the influence of data on our direct marketing strategies. This week, I’m particularly focused on the perceived similarities—and differences—between nonprofit organizations and the commercial sector. Here’s why:
In my work at Pursuant, I am fortunate to connect with the country’s most compassionate and impactful leaders—nonprofit executives. As I travel the country, I listen to the incredible hurdles they overcome and empathize with the obstacles still standing in the way.
We live in a data-abundant world. There is so much information and so much noise. Leaders often tell me they have systems and teams working in silos, leaving many of them paralyzed with ambitious goals to achieve and insufficient resources to achieve them. They explain the challenges of having imperfect and incomplete data—reciting painful stories of the major donor who called the CEO directly to share their displeasure after having received a nickel package addressed to Mr. Shelia Thompson.
Here’s the thing: silos, imperfections and incomplete information are hardly unique to philanthropy. In fact, if you haven’t already, find a friend who works in the commercial space and ask them about the data for their consumer base. While we often perceive that bigger budgets and deeper resources translate to better accuracy, that is not always (or even often) the case. So, if it’s not budget and it’s not resources, what is the difference? Why are so many commercial organizations perceived to be ahead of our philanthropic peers? This is where I get excited and disruptive.
TWO WORDS—CALCULATED RISK.
That’s right. I said the word “risk.” Ask yourself, what is your organization’s risk tolerance? Do you send emails to Dear Friend, because you’re afraid to have the wrong name in the [First Name] field? Do you omit personalization metrics like cumulative giving or amount of last gift because you don’t trust the accuracy? I bet you do, and I bet that friend of yours who works in the commercial space doesn’t. Don’t get me wrong. Taking calculated risks can lead to failure and can be scary, but what I learned from working in the commercial space is that the goal is to “innovate, fail-fast, gain key learnings, pivot and try again.” This is where testing becomes critical; however, to do that we have to be comfortable with risks and, frankly, with failures.
Our fear of risk, however, is understandable. We are the holders of people’s passions, hearts and most of all—their hopes. It’s a powerful responsibility and not one to be taken lightly. But at the same time, we know that the ways of our past are not sufficient to support our futures, so as many of us prepare for DMANF in D.C. next week, I wonder what disruptive idea we will take away to try, and I wonder how many of them will be tied to increasing our tolerance for risk.
At Pursuant, we believe that data drives strategy and insights are the fuel that ignites the fundraising engine. We are committed to this industry and passionate about developing solutions that are scalable, cost-effective and impactful in connecting resources to vision so that more passionate people are inspired to change the world. And next week, I’m excited to look at all of that through the lens of calculated risks. I believe that we can be measured in how we approach our work, and I’m looking forward to seeing how DMANF will disrupt my thinking to inspire greater outcomes for the clients I serve.