Written by Leesa Harwood, Owner of By The Waves Charity Consulting.
Data is great. It underpins good decision-making. It helps fundraisers to understand supporters, articulate impact, measure success and prioritise the deployment of finite resources. But you can have too much of a good thing. Today we have access to lots of data, but nowhere near enough insight. Alexander Chancellor, former editor of The Spectator said:
“Excessive information creates its own form of blindness to what is actually going on.”
Now, charity professionals are faced with so much data, that they simply can’t see the wood for the trees. They are data blind.
With so much data available, sorting the good from the bad can be challenging. This summer I sifted through over 85 data sources, reports, and documents to compile After the Storm, a summary of key, socio-economic trends and their implications for charity leaders. I am not a data scientist. My background is charity leadership and fundraising, so it was hard going. The more reports I read, the more I realised that data and research can be divided into three categories:
Good data goes beyond a presentation of facts and figures. It evolves into information and then insight. In starts with a fact, then answers the question ‘so what?’ then articulates a clear implication. Good data is based on viable samples, objectivity, and curiosity. It closes the loop between asking a question, analysing facts to find an answer, then adding a big dose of common sense and context to draw a conclusion. It doesn’t just provide information, it delivers enlightenment. Researchers produce good data with one eye on the audience and the problem they’re trying to solve. They adapt their language to present their findings in a relevant and engaging way for their target audience. They know where they can add value and they set out to do so from the start.
Bad data is everywhere. Vast quantities of facts, figures, graphs, and charts couched in impenetrable language that makes your eyes spin and your ears bleed. Bad data is not necessarily incorrect or corrupt data. It’s just not useful. It is often compiled and presented by incredibly clever people who know their subject matter but not their audience. You have to work hard to optimise bad data. Finding it, translating it, processing it, then applying it to your world or problem. Usually, the ‘so what?’ answer is buried in so much jargon that you give up and go home.
This is the worst data of all because can be misleading and fake. It falls into three categories:
A headline loosely linked to some random statistics picked from a survey using questionable methodology. Great at grabbing headlines, a data capture tool and a way of inflating click-through statistics.
Survey results with tiny sample sizes are useless. There are over 160,000 registered charities in England and Wales, and yet some high profile, sector bodies persist in presenting conclusive trend data based on samples of less than 50 charities. This is literally not big, and not clever.
Usually companies or suppliers commission research or surveys with a specific result in mind. Usually that result nudges you to buy their product. It’s unfair to suggest that all supplier-commissioned research falls into this category. But if a business produces a survey that aligns with its marketing content, it’s always sensible to cross check with an alternative data source just in case.
Data is fickle. With enough manipulation, the right lens and selective bias you can make data say pretty much anything. But as fundraisers, we rely on it to keep us current, efficient and honest so it is important that we know where to go to find good data and how to use it properly. By learning to recognise the good, the bad and the ugly fundraisers will always use the right data to answer the right questions at the right time.
Written by Claire Routley. Claire is Head of Gifts in Will Consultancy at Legacy Voice. She loves everything legacy giving.
As many people reading this blog will already know, the value of legacy giving is predicted to increase dramatically over the next few decades, with legacy income set to increase by 35% over the next 10 years (Legacy Foresight).
However, whilst 40% of people say they would be happy to leave a small percentage of their estate to
charity, only 6% of people actually do, suggesting that, if we can engage supporters more effectively, there’s potential to grow the market even beyond these predictions.
Firstly, we should consider how the world has changed since 2020.
We’re now living in a very different world from the one we inhabited just a few years ago. It’s probably fair to say that many of the certainties by which we lived our lives have been shattered by the Covid pandemic, the growing threat of climate change and the war in Ukraine, certainties about the way we live and work, the political order, or our own health and wellbeing. And, frighteningly, these are not trivial issues, but potential threats to our very existence.
Secondly, our supporters themselves are changing as new generations begin to think about what they will leave behind them.
As many people will be aware, the Boomer generation are becoming an increasingly important audience for legacy giving, and, research shows, they’re likely to demand higher levels of tangibility, transparency and control than the generations who came before them.
What fewer people might be aware of is that with first legacies being added to wills at 49, Generation X (currently aged between 42 and 57) are also becoming an important legacy audience. Although we know less about their likely attitudes to legacy giving, wider writing suggests that they’re likely to be sceptical of authority, independent and extremely media savvy.
When we’re living through a challenging present, we often look to the past: nostalgia (or a sentimental longing for the past) is one of the coping mechanisms we turn to in difficult times. Encouraging people to reflect on the past is also likely to be positive in terms of legacy giving, with research showing a strong link between one’s life experience and choosing charities to support with a legacy gift.
In a world of existential terror, we’re all looking for some hope. As charities encouraging legacy giving, we can share a vision for a better future – and indeed, research suggests that showing people a positive future vision (as opposed to focusing on the detail of day-to-day work) is likely to be particularly effective in legacy messaging.
Similarly, in a world where mortality suddenly seems more real to us all, we may strive to develop a sense of symbolic immortality – a sense that whilst we might no longer be here physically, some part of us will live on. Showing our supporters how they will continue to have an impact on the world through their legacy gift is likely to be of increasing importance over the next few years and help to offset some of the worry people may feel.
However, with a generation coming through who care deeply about tangibility, transparency and control, and the generation who follow them being even more sceptical, it will be vital that we focus not only on positive, visionary messaging but on showing that our organisations can be trusted and that people can have some choice in how and where their money is spent.
Having focused on the challenging circumstances that we and our supporters are facing, I wanted to finish on a note of positivity. It’s amazing to consider how, through legacy fundraising, we can help people to focus on what’s been meaningful in their own lives, and, even in the most challenging of times, help them to create a sense of hope for the future. As well as providing the funds to deliver the good work of our organisations, we can give this amazing, positive gift to the people that are kind enough to support us in this wonderful way.