If you didn’t get a chance to go to the American Public Gardens Association (APGA) conference in Minneapolis last month, and you were not able to attend the “Big Data” presentation that I did with two of our esteemed Target Analytics clients, Tracie Barham at San Diego Botanic Garden, and Jill Koski at Morten Arboretum, let me recount the highlights!

“Big data” has been a “big topic” for quite some time now. But is it just another buzzword? What does big data mean?

Let’s identify the type of data analytics we discussed & how they can help your organization:

  1. How to use your CRM data to analyze trends in gift history, affiliations, connections, etc.
  2. Understanding and using predictive modeling to determine who your future annual, major, and planned gift donors are – and how much can they give your organization.
  3. Wealth screening individuals through public data sources to uncover information on income, career, biographies, interests, achievements, philanthropic and political affiliations, etc.

What are the steps to utilizing big data effectively?

Step 1: Find the right suite of data analytics products and services!

As you evaluate data analytics products, remember to keep a close eye on your institution’s objectives for implementation.  When you’ve chosen your solution, you should build a cadence in utilizing the data over your  various programs and initiatives with an approach that isn’t overwhelming. (The last thing you want to do is leave your organization in a state of “analysis paralysis”, imposing unrealistic expectations on you and other staff!)  By simply layering in data results, allowing the data to help inform your strategy over time, you can implement your analysis as a way to inform various decision-making avenues for your nonprofit.

Step 2: Learn to trust the data results.

Understand that there is no magic number or formula that will predict exactly how much and when a donor will give you a gift.  Rather I suggest looking at your analytics project as providing a means of prioritizing prospects at various capacity levels in conjunction with the type of gift(s) the prospect would be likely to give to your organization.  Segmentation is the key, and when it comes to major gifts and many planned gifts, nothing replaces long-term relationship building between fundraiser and donor.

Of course, Jill and Tracie had some great tips too! They talked about how their respective organizations utilized their analytics for both annual and major gifts.  They used both internal analysis of their donors, members, event attendees, and visitors at their respective organizations, as well as modeling and wealth screening via projects with Target Analytics.  Keep in mind that San Diego Botanic Garden and Morten Arboretum have very different staffing levels, goals, budgets, and a host of other factors.

Here are some common threads (that also happen to be best practices):

  1. They both liked testing and sampling their respective data analytics results, using both control groups and test groups to determine what types of appeals were improving over previous performance metrics as well as what might need refinement
  2. They both utilized their analysis in “bite-sized pieces”, meaning they didn’t take all the results and just start asking for the identified capacity for the entire population of their database.
  3. They both combined internal trend analysis (gift history, visitation rates, membership loyalty, event attendance, etc.) with what Target Analytics provided as part of their respective projects.
  4. They both acknowledged challenges, hits and misses, and what their next steps were going to be. Both Jill & Tracie are utilizing a measureable, realistic, and cadenced approach for implementing their results over the coming weeks, months, and even years

Want to hear more about utilizing data analytics?

We’re offering a free webinar so that not only public gardens, but any and all nonprofits can learn about how analyzing your pool of prospects and creating a thoughtful implementation plan can help inform a fundraising strategy that can jumpstart your organization to reach various goals and future growth opportunities.

Register for our webinar and keep in mind that as a bonus, we plan to discuss how Jill and Tracie utilized analytics for their planned giving programs. At APGA, we actually ran out of time and couldn’t cover this content so it’s a special treat for our webinar attendees.

We hope you can join us, and tell all your nonprofit friends and colleagues!


Carol Belair is a senior consultant for Target Analytics, a Blackbaud company. She brings over 18 years of experience in predictive modeling analytics and wealth screening services, and she currently works with our Target Analytics clients providing strategic implementation consulting with various analytics and wealth screening projects. She started her career at Blackbaud specializing in our P!N Electronic Screening services in transitioning these P!N clients to the Target Analytics wealth screening platforms. Throughout her career Carol has served thousands of clients with various prospect screening and analytics services and is a member of the Minnesota Chapter of the Association for Professional Researchers for Advancement (APRA). Carol holds a Bachelor of Arts from the University of Minnesota and completed graduate studies in marketing communications from the University of St. Thomas. She volunteers with local humane societies, belongs to a local community choir, is an avid reader, enjoys fine wine, and loves to lift weights, hike, bike, and just keeping in motion. Contact Carol by email.

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