News & Articles

It’s not how ‘Big’ your data is – it’s what you do with it that counts.

By Brent Collyer, Pareto Fundraising’s new Head of Analytics, Insights and Data.

I’ve come from a strictly ‘for-profit’ background, where I’ve been wrangling data for Big Business and using it to drive change in the pursuit of the bottom line. So it’s been eye-opening, confronting and exciting for me to come to a sector where there’s so much more at stake.

In my first months at Pareto, I’ve had a chance to be on-site at charities where I can see the impact of fundraising, sometimes in the next room. I’ve been struck by how close people in this sector are to the problems they are trying to solve, and I’m seeing why it’s a passion – not just a job – for so many people who work in fundraising.

So, my challenge is to take everything I know about data and analytics from my corporate experience, and help charities turn that into money that solves problems. Here’s my take on how the fundraising sector can use the opportunities presented by ‘Big Data’.

If you build in rigour and integrity, you’ll do better, faster. 

Everyone’s talking about data, and these days almost everyone is collecting a lot of it. That volume is one of the ‘four Vs’ which make up ‘Big Data’. The other three are variety, velocity and veracity.

But, the speed and rate at which it’s collected brings some challenges. I’ve see many businesses struggle with unnecessary and unreliable data, poor quality data and just plain incorrect data. They come unstuck if they make decisions based on that data, or have to spend hours and dollars trying to clean it, migrate it, and untangle the mess it can make.

The opportunity cost of all that cleaning up is the insights they could be getting from the right, clean data.

The takeout: Invest in the fundamentals of hygiene, integrity, and a good structure you can build on. Standardise your data capture at the front-end, have disciplined processes, a well-trained team and regular audits. These things may not be the most immediately exciting part of ‘Big Data’, but they will set you up for success.

 Your ‘Useful Data’ is more important than ‘Big Data’

Once you have access to a lot of data, the temptation is to do everything you possibly can with it. Something that I understand completely.  But trying to analyse every bit of data is just going to spread your resources too thinly. Even if you did have unlimited human resources and budget, you’d burn them on work that would not necessarily return any value.

So one of the most important decisions a data analyst can make is, “What’s the right data to analyse for meaningful insight?”. Often this means making hard calls on what you choose to ignore or put to the side for the moment.

One very good way to make those decisions is by focusing on the metrics, rather than the data itself.  No matter what the size or complexity of your business, there are probably only five or six metrics which really reveal what you need to know. (Other metrics may be interesting – but that doesn’t mean they’re useful).

Metrics let you track, monitor and assess the performance of a particular program or process. And metrics help you identify further opportunities.

The takeout: Don’t try to do everything with your data. Instead, choose the most useful metrics and focus on those.  Over time as your data expands and your understanding of this data evolves so will the range of metrics and the insights they can provide.

Data analytics and predictive modelling can help you make better decisions about your fundraising.

Ten years or so ago, analytics and business intelligence (BI) began to change the way traditional reporting was being used to help businesses understand their environment, investments, customers and efficiency. Analysing data gives you insights you can really use.

Then came the evolution from ‘descriptive analytics’ to ‘predictive analytics’. Once businesses realised the potential of analytics, they started to develop and use predictive modelling.

Simply, predictive modelling is a way to predict the future using data from the past.  Data analysts uncover data patterns and use algorithms to forecast outcomes and create models that predict which actions or audiences have a high likelihood to succeed, and which have a high probability to fail.

Modelling tools can help you make investment decisions: “If we invest this much in one acquisition channel, and this much in another, what are our likely returns in the short term, long term, etc.”? It’s a lot cheaper, faster, and less risky than actually making those investments and watching what happens.

Once we have an understanding of the range of likely forecast scenarios we can then build predictive into prescriptive analytics.  This means providing advise as to what a company or client should do given a prediction.  Prescriptive analytics attempts to quantify the impact of future outcomes and help determine an appropriate range of commercial strategies.

From many years of data analytics and insights, I can see so many applications for advanced predictive and prescriptive analytics in the charity sector. With the power of cloud-based computing and growth in data collection, the sky is the limit for:

  • Donor intelligence – predicting and understanding donor behaviours.
  • Donor profiles – using predictive analytics to develop profiles of the best donors.
  • Qualifying and prioritising leads.
  • Product development and channel integration.
  • Targeting the right donors, at the right time, with the right content.
  • Reducing donor attrition.

The takeout: Predictive and Prescriptive modelling and analytics have superb utility. BUT – read everything above this section, and everything below – to really get the maximum value from them.   

The competitive advantage lies in data agility and enrichment.

Your data is a reflection of the real world, which is a living, breathing, constantly-changing entity.  The increasing velocity of data means that there is an ever-growing need to continually refresh our data and recalibrate our models but given that data is created as part of the human experience we need to continually evolve our understanding of what our data means.

The ever-changing face-to-face market, for example, means that Pareto has a highly skilled and professional team that continuously verify and update the assumptions and algorithms contained in our Regular Giving Forecasting and Life Time Value models.  The increase in the average life span of men and women over the past 12 years of Bequest Modelling has led to a complete redevelopment of that model to keep it as robust and accurate as possible.

As a general rule, the more good data you can feed into your ever-evolving data pool, the more usable insights you’ll get from it. And when I say ‘good data’, I don’t just mean your own data. Data enrichment allows you to get an understanding of what your data and customers look like to another business or industry or even country.  Pareto Fundraising Benchmarking is a case in point, and I’m looking forward to enriching that wonderful cache of information with data and insights from several new sources.

Finally, the most important aspect of enriching data comes from utilising those insights alongside a strong foundation of industry knowledge. As much as I believe in analytics and respect data, understanding the environmental factors that surround it are just as valuable as the data itself.

So, after working in the commercial sector for almost 20 years, specialising in Analytics and Insights,  I’m very much looking forward to tapping into the deep knowledge and experience in the not-for-profit sector – and mixing it up with the data insights that will help us all make more of a difference.


Brent Collyer, Head of Analytics, Insights and Data for Pareto Fundraising.

Brent has over 20 years’ experience across a broad range of domestic and international energy and financial markets.  Developing strategic insights that drive commercial outcomes through the use of data, analytics and technology.

How to love your donors (to death)

Stephen Pidgeon

“It is the fundraiser’s job, your only job, to make the supporter feel good about supporting your charity. You have to love your donors. The money will follow.”

So says author Stephen Pidgeon, a man who needs little introduction to seasoned fundraisers around the world. But, as he also says,

“As I get older and become part of the population segment that is most likely to donate,

I feel more and more abused by charities trying to squeeze the last penny out of me.

It’s madness, because people like me – and there are millions of us – need to be

loved by charities … loved to death.”

That is Stephen’s motivation for writing this book.

This book is for fundraisers with the vision, tenacity and campaigning zeal not just to change the world but to change the way fundraising is done.

In amongst this book’s practical tips, rants, keys and big ideas, this book covers all the basic essentials of fundraising direct marketing and also throws in some sensible insights into the more complex aspects of this endlessly fascinating activity.

The ‘to death’ element of the title of course refers to bequests, the final big gift that more donors could be persuaded to make if only more fundraisers could retain donors support and interest for longer.

As Stephen says:

“Legacies are not the gift of angels, but will increasingly come from donors who are loved and nurtured in their relationship with their favourite charity.”

For the fundraiser who is serious about addressing one of the biggest challenges facing the sector today – retention – buying and reading this book is a great start.

Stop mailing the major donors … they’re different

As a fundraiser you’ve probably heard this more than once. But is it the right thing to do?

Most major gifts are made after about five years of giving. About 88% of major gifts come from existing supporters. So, the majority of major donors spend the first part of their relationship with you as general donors – and a part of your general stewardship program.

They reach the status of a major donor because they have enjoyed and responded to the communications that you have had with them.

So, why shouldn’t they continue to receive the mail and email appeals that other donors get?

Back in 2014, Grizzard Communications Group reported on some surprising test results.

In the test, 500 donors of $500 or more were allowed to limit the number of appeals they would receive in the coming year.

They wrote to all 500 donors and attached a list of the 12 direct mail appeals they were scheduled to receive that coming year. They said they would mail them all 12 of the appeals unless they received specific instructions from the donors.

Of the 500 in the group, 186 wrote back and designated the specific mailings they wanted during the next 12-month mailing cycle. Interestingly, the most mailings anyone selected was three.

At the end of the year, they compared the group that received all 12 mailings versus the group that had self-identified those mailings that were of most interest. The result?

The donors who received all 12 mailings gave 35% more than the ones who selected their particular appeal.

The learning? Unless your donor has specifically asked you to stop mailing or e-mailing them appeals, stick with your direct mail stewardship schedule. And combine it with your major donor cultivation strategy.

Because if your charity is stewarding well, your donors at every level are receiving thoughtful communications from you that move the relationship forward. Great fundraising means you never need to worry about your mail or email.

When you take any segment of donors from your stewardship program, unless you have a substitute communication and ask strategy to replace the direct response communication, there’s a real risk of those donors falling into a black hole of under-communication.

Like any donor, major donors love to give.  Take them out of your stewardship schedule and you deny them the joy of what it means to make an impact with their giving.

Plus, it can have a devastating impact on your organisation’s income.

HOT TIP: Do you have rules around ‘do not mail’ in your charity, we often see whole segments changed at a whim of one person. Setup two flags, ‘DNM-donor request’ and ‘DNM internal’, this simple change empowers your supporters.

A donor complains about too much mail – what you can do

Give them a choice.

Dr Adrian Sargeant’s research has found that donors, when asked their communication preferences, tended to stay with charities longer and make bigger average gifts. Offering donors choice is a key.

In support of this, fundraiser Stephen Pidgeon explains:

“You must not do it too early, and certainly not after the first gift.

“After all, how will the new supporter know the pleasures of a stewardship program that await them? You must test it, of course, but I would ask a new supporter after nine to 12 months, when they have experienced one or two appeals, a newsletter or two, maybe a survey and an invitation to an event.”

At Pareto Fundraising, we put this into action with our charity partners. Be smart, be strategic, and be data led:

  • Don’t give every donor choice all at once. Test your choices with your least valuable donor segments so you can learn and adapt them for your most valuable segments.
  • Don’t give your donors choice across all channels in one communication. When given choice, most people may only pick one or two channels. And this will leave you unable to communicate with them in other channels.
  • Use your supporter preferences data (i.e. survey results) to understand your donor’s motivation for giving – and then adapt the choices to suit that. A donor is not likely to refuse to receive information from a charity on the things they are most interested in.
  • Ask us about a proven strategy for validating the permission status of a large dormant pool of supporters you have in your database that can unlock many new donors for you

Need some inspiration?

Offering donors choice has been the foundation of many a charity’s fundraising success. And they’ve been doing it for decades. For inspiration, check these out:

So really, how often should you mail a donor?

If there was one quick answer, we wouldn’t need to write a whole article about it. Because the truth is it’s different for every non-profit.

But as most fundraisers agree … more is usually more (provided of course your communications are hopeful, inspiring and relevant).

This is what some of our leading fundraising experts have to say about how many times you should mail your donors:

Canadian fundraiser Alan Sharpe says at least eight times a year:

“Mail at least four appeal letters and mail at least four newsletters

(or donor cultivation, donor information type pieces).”

Tom Ahern, donor communications expert says 21 times a year:

“In focus groups, veteran donors complain long and loud about being over-solicited

by their favourite charities. But if you watch their giving behaviour,

you will find they don’t stop giving as a result.”

Future Fundraising Now’s Jeff Brooks says at least 20 times a year:

“Most of the organisations I work with send 12-18 appeal letters a year,

plus three to six newsletters. A few do more than that.

If you’re communicating with donors much less than this, you’re probably not maximising your fundraising, and all your metrics, from net revenue to donor retention, are likely not where they could be.”

What is right? Lots and lots of testing

There’s no correct answer to the question of ‘how often should you mail?’ What works for your charity may not work for another.

There is only one way to find out the effectiveness of your communications program – and that’s to test it. And it’s great to test it in that critical first year when most of your donors will leave you after their first gift – even if you are communicating well.

Creating a pilot program – one that tests your journeys across different channels and measures lifetime value and retention rate – is the only way you will ever truly be able to answer the big question of, ‘how much should you mail?’

By using data and insights – not instinct – you will be able to make the best decisions for your charity.

Regular communication is important for donor loyalty

At Pareto Fundraising we use data and the insights it generates to work out what the optimum communications program should be to maximise lifetime value from donors.

The most important behavioural indicator for whether someone will give to you is whether they gave to you previously. And, the more recently someone gave, the more likely they are to give again.

So, mailing, emailing or phoning regularly means that you are constantly communicating with those most likely to become the loyal, dedicated group of donors that will help fund your non-profit.

One of the biggest causes of attrition – up to 53% according to Dr Adrian Sargeant – is the lack of communication from a charity. If they don’t hear from you, donors stop supporting your charity. It’s as simple as that.

 Never assume donors will give more … if they get less contact. 

It rarely works that way.

Also, when it comes to asking donors for a second gift, timing is important. It does vary slightly, depending on cause, channel of solicitation etc. but it’s always going to be somewhere within 90 days of that first gift.

Through benchmarking we can identify donors giving their second gift within zero-three months have the highest five-year donor value. And donor value decreases as the length of time between the first and second gift increases.

At Pareto, we took learnings from UK donor data around lifetime value and optimum conversion timings and applied it in Australia to find a similar result:

Across any given data set, increasing communications tends to increase the lifetime value of that data set. Not just short-term income, but overall giving.

Why is it then that many charities tend to under, not over-communicate with their donors?

Sometimes, the limit on the number of communications can be forced on a charity for internal reasons – the capacity to be able to produce multiple communications.

In other organisations, communication may be low because there are staff who believe reducing ‘donor fatigue’ or ‘donor burn-out’ is a priority over maximising engagement and donations from supporters. .

Donors love to help and giving feels good. Don’t take that away from them by under-communicating, however, you need to be smart and plan your touchpoints.

If you are speaking in your donors’ language and repeatedly giving them opportunity to change the world in ways that matter to them – and then thanking them and reporting back well – then you can keep up a high frequency of communication.

And, avoid the 53% donor departure rate.

So, in 2018 make your donor communications a strategy. Start by mapping your donor experience now. Talk to Pareto today about how we can use your data to drive strategy and tactics.

Book Reviews

Making money with donor newsletters By Tom Ahern,

If you’re a brand new fundraiser this book is perfect for you. If you’re already a successful and accomplished fundraiser, this book will help you use your skills even more effectively.

One of the best tools for mass cultivation is the donor newsletter. It’s one of the most efficient ways you have to speak to your entire donor base on a regular basis.

In brief, a properly prepared newsletter will add heaps to your bottom line … bring joy to your donors … and boost your charity’s donor retention to new heights, one of today’s highest priorities in fundraising.

Read Tom’s book and you’ll understand why.

The essence of this book centres around seven fatal flaws that stop many charity newsletters from being effective:

1. Newsletter fails to use the word “you” often enough

2. Newsletter skimps on emotional triggers

3. Newsletter has no news

4. Newsletter isn’t donor-centred

5. Newsletter isn’t designed for rapid skimming and browsing

6. Newsletter has weak headlines – the ‘most deadly’ of the fatal flaws

7. Newsletter depends on too many statistics to make its case.

And that’s just the beginning. There’s a lot more in this short book which makes it worth your time and money.

Our advice? If you produce a charity newsletter, get this book.  If you don’t do a newsletter, then get this book and start producing one. If you follow the principles in this book, you’ll get good results. And by that we mean net revenue.

And that’s something that all charities want.

The Tiny Essentials of Donor Loyalty by Adrian Sargeant

This book is part of a series of teeny, tiny books that have a big mission.  They focus on what really matters in one key area of fundraising management.

Each book’s purpose is to provide the essentials of its subject in an entertaining, easily digestible form, so people who wouldn’t dream of reading a business book can effortlessly and enjoyably get access to what they really need to know.

The Tiny Essentials of Donor Loyalty focuses on what every fundraiser, CEO and board member needs to know about incorporating donor retention into their fundraising strategy.

Every point made in this book has been substantiated through prior research.  Every opinion or point is based on over 20 years of work by researchers working in the fields of psychology, sociology, economics and marketing.

Adrian Sargeant himself is one of the world’s foremost authorities in the domain of non-profit marketing. No one knows more about donor loyalty and retention. And that’s why you should read this book.

In just 10 short chapters – why bother?  satisfaction, encouraging dissent, commitment, trust, identity and identification, what damages loyalty recruiting loyal donors, other issues and conclusions – Adrian Sargeant effectively sets out the blue print for understanding, overcoming and capitalising upon what he describes in his very first sentence as, … ‘the single biggest challenge facing our sector today.’

He’s not wrong. But now you can respond effectively and comprehensively to this challenge, just be spending an hour or so with this packed, but tiny, easy-to-use book.



3 things to do this year to love your donors better

Become a new donor

This January, sign up and be a supporter to your own charity. And do the same for a handful of other charities you think have great donor service.

Make a donation of varying amounts to each of the charities. Make your donations via different channels – one third by mail, one third online and one third by telephone.

Then track and follow the 90-day journey of each of these charities. Don’t forget to write down how you feel personally about each of the interactions.

Then at the end of the 90 days, report back to your team. You’ll be able to see just what your donor is experiencing at your charity – and others. The results will help you to improve your donor retention program.


It’s new to Australia!  Pareto is launching a Supporter Journey Tracker or more commonly known as mystery shopping. Using an internationally recognised and sophisticated platform, we will track your donor journey and report back to you. Our trial starts in February and our foundation partners are as excited as we are to be able to track and report on the donor experience, including face-to-face donors. You can be everywhere and report on the donor experience. Contact Clarke Vincent at Pareto for more information.


Review all your materials – across all channels

Welcomes, thank yous’, newsletters, invitations, appeal letters, emails, websites … you’ve got so many ‘touch points’ where your charity can be in direct contact with your donor.

How amazing is that. Because each touch point represents an opportunity for you to make a great impression on your donor.

That’s why all your communications should be beautifully written and full of the stories of how changes have happened because of a donor’s gift – and how that donor is making the world a better place.

So, this year, map all our donor touchpoints – and look at them carefully.  Part of great donor care is to make sure your donors are seeing the same messages – across all channels.  Inconsistency in messaging can have a real impact on donor lifetime value – and not for the better.

Clean up your data for great donor service

Meticulous record-keeping is critical to building donor relationships.

Donors expect you to maintain accurate information about them. They expect their name to be spelt correctly and their address to be accurate. They don’t want to receive duplicate mailings, or any mailings if they have asked to be removed from a list or are deceased.

Improving data quality is an investment. Yet, in countless numbers of charities its importance is ignored. In F&P Magazine in April 2015, mystery shopper Stephen Mally commented:

“I polled staff of 24 non-profit organisations, who didn’t know they were in the study, asking why they do not maintain data hygiene and data enhancement. They indicated data hygiene processes are “too hard”; impact is not appreciated by upper management, so there is no investment; and staff do not understand data hygiene so have difficulty communicating the need for it to management.”

None are solid reasons when agencies exist to help with this crucial area.

A successful charity knows that data is one of the backbones of its organisation. So, this January, make sure that your charity’s data is giving your donors the best possible service.

Need data help?

Pareto’s data services team can help you with your database clean-up, creation of your Policy & Procedures document and Data Entry standards document.

We can also help you with:

  • Address append and verification
  • Phone append and verification
  • De-duplication.

Things we like

Everything you need to know about fundraising in one photo

Four years ago, Mark Phillips in his Queer Ideas fundraising blog posted this photo:

What matters is how your donors feel.

Make them feel special and you’ll succeed.


Who is your Nana Murphy?

Meet Nana Murphy.  She’s the world’s greatest donor. 



She helped Merchants Quay Ireland achieve brilliant results in one of the worst fundraising environments that Ireland had ever known.

Nana Murphy has grey hair, pearls and wears a twin set. At a glance, she looks unlikely to change the world. But for Merchants Quay, she’s the most important person in the world.

Every piece of communication that Merchants Quay writes is written as if they are writing to Nana Murphy. They know that if Nana doesn’t like the information she receives, the communication will fail.

Why? Because Merchant’s Quay knows that Nana Murphy represents the largest donor group to the organisation.  And they know that if they want to do great fundraising, they need to know who their Nana Murphy is – and write to her about the things that are important to her.

Who is your organisation’s Nana Murphy?

It could be one of the most important things that you can find out.

Don’t make assumptions or have a guess as to who your Nana is. Do the research and find out for sure. Crunch the numbers, do donor surveys, focus groups, interviews, make telephone calls … do whatever it takes.

You may find your Nana Murphy is younger. Or that it’s a Pop, not a Nana. But chances are your donors are like most donors – 60 and older. They’re the donors who will stay with you and give you the most over time.

But either way, it doesn’t matter.

You just need to know who your Nana is.

And then meet them where they are, not where you want them to be.

Once you’ve found your organisation’s Nana, do as Merchants Quay did. Provide a cut-out of that person to every staff member to place on their desk or bulletin board, to remind you to keep your donors at the heart of everything you do. That’s the path to great fundraising.

Want to know more about Nana Murphy. You can see the full case study on the SOFII website.