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  • 26 Feb 2020 10:30 AM | Anonymous

    By Garan Weilnau

    Okay… yes… I started out with a silly joke.  But it works and I have all year to do it.  So I’m owning it.

    A little back tracking though… In 2019 I did the most liberating thing I’ve ever done as a professional.  One of the goals I set for myself was to “Create custom reports for fundraising staff that are wanted, needed, and used”.  And it’s amazing how those three little words can completely change everything about my professional mindset.  And I’m never going back.

    If heading into 2020 means the clarity of 20/20 vision, then I am sticking with the idea of creating reports that are match all three categories.  This is not one of those jokes where you say that someone can have a report quickly, perfect, and robust – now pick 2.  If I can’t say that a report that is wanted, needed, AND used… well my friends… it probably isn’t going to get made.

    It all started with custom portfolio reports.  These bad boys had it all.  Charts!  Research!  Wealth!  These were like a tiny database all smashed into one custom printed sheet and lovingly put into binders.  I was so proud that I had made one location where people could see the 30,000-foot view of their portfolio whenever they wanted.  I had 7 of them to do.  After the first 2 I was starting to have some regret.  After 5 I definitely had some regret.  But I couldn’t do some and then not distribute others.  So I finished them.  I handed them out at a Moves Management meeting and everyone ooh’d and ahhh’d over them, gushed over them, poured over them, and professed their love of them.

    Then it came time to update the binders in the next fiscal year.  Some of them were simply beautiful.  Coffee stains everywhere.  Notes in the margin and on the back.  Tabs along the margins and dog ear folds in the top corner.  Crossed out information and new, updated information handwritten in its place.  They were a thing of beauty.  Others were as pristine as the day I handed them out.  Some didn’t even look like they were opened.

    And that’s when I realized that this structure needed to change.  I don’t have the bandwidth to do this level of custom reporting for everyone all the time and it’s personally very frustrating to do this level of work and it’s just ignored.  (FULL DISCLOSURE: I know DO’s work hard, so I am not trying to say those that did not use the information did not appreciate it.)

    So that’s when I started making reports that are wanted, needed, and used.


    I can make custom reports.  I can make pretty looking pivot tables in Excel that have custom formatting with slicers and filters and changes (OH MY).  And I don’t even consider myself that proficient.  I have seen people build things in Excel that are both mind boggling and beautiful.

    Just because I can make something doesn’t mean I should.

    And that’s sometimes where the tricky part comes in.  I have a million ideas of how I can demonstrate information being used.  But that doesn’t mean it’s wanted. 

    They may just want a simple export in a format they can sort. 

    And here is the key thing to remember – that is okay.  Giving someone a report in a format they are comfortable with doesn’t mean that I am not still a reporting badass.  It means I am smart enough to give the right information in the right format.

    I know I could make it look like some masterpiece.  But that doesn’t mean I have to each and every time.


    The first step to any report should be understanding that this report is needed, that it the answer/outcome the person is searching for isn’t available elsewhere, and that the only way of getting this information is through a custom report.  Once that is sorted out, everything else should fall simply into place.

    Just because I have the idea of a custom portfolio review book doesn’t mean that the development staff needed to see their portfolios at this level.  Or in this way. 

    Needed reports are those reports that people ask for.  Again and again.  And they ask for it because they want it.  And they want it because it has become an important part of their routine.


    This one is admittedly the hardest.  Because it involves both letting something go and accepting the fact that it isn’t personal.  Someone can genuinely appreciate my work while at the same time never actually use it.  And it is incredibly liberating to think “I don’t HAVE to do this”.  I am the only researcher on my team.  Creating research books for people who don’t actually want or need them is time away from other work, not answering other questions, and not understanding other trends.

    And if they aren’t used sometimes it is a matter of pivoting to find another way to present the information.  If it isn’t used, that doesn’t mean that I never ever give that report information again.  It just means that this current format or this current timing isn’t right.

    So here it is 2020 and this is the new mindset.  I’m confident that I’m going the right direction.  And it’s empowering to know that I’m doing what feels right.  I got this.  And you’ve got this, too.

  • 09 Apr 2018 11:06 AM | Anonymous

    By: Meg Kinney

    I have a natural tendency to be at least a little dissatisfied with my work. There’s always some improvement I could have made, some newer, better technique just over the horizon. Over my five years as a prospect researcher, this tendency has manifested itself most in how I approach lists of prospects for D.O.s. These are longish spreadsheets, usually pulled based on a few criteria from the D.O.–alumni in a certain town, prospects with certain wealth ratings, whatever. Over the years, how I and my fellow researchers present these lists (since we try to help D.O.s focus on top prospects instead of just sending a big undifferentiated list) has changed pretty dramatically, and there is more in store. Our changing approach presents a good case study of how innovation can add up over time.

    Ideally, before sending a list of prospects we’d go through each one manually, weeding out people who don’t seem like great prospects and calling attention to the best ones. For larger lists, though, and given our time constraints, this isn’t possible. We rely on a standardized(ish) approach to help D.O.s prioritize prospects on the list instead. When I started here, the approach was to narrow a list by certain minimum criteria (like taking out prospects with no prior giving or with low capacity) and then guide D.O.s towards the better prospects in this narrow pool by highlighting (literally, in the Excel spreadsheet) positive indicators. We might go through the giving column and highlight those who’d given a lot to the D.O.’s unit, the affinity column and highlight those with high affinity, etc. Since the lists we send tend to have a lot of columns, this was fairly cumbersome to look through, and it wasn’t easy for the D.O.s to get a quick sense of who had a lot of good indicators compared to others on the list.

    Shortly after I started, I came up with a macro that would count the highlights. Effectively, this was a way to create a heuristic score for each list. What qualifies as a “positive indicator” can vary from list to list–the standards would be much higher on a list of top donors vs. a list of Education alumni in the Midwest, for example. The highlight macro is a little complicated, and I’ve started just using formulas to assign points for certain criteria and then sum them up into a score, but it was a way to build on past practices rather than overthrowing them.

    Then, I started sending select lists with pivot tables as a way to give D.O.s more power to filter things themselves (by the scores I’d created or otherwise). I had gotten feedback that some D.O.s like to have more control over who they see on a list, so this was a way to allow them that while also presenting helpful summary information that can be particularly useful for larger lists.

    Throughout the time I’ve been here but especially in the last two years, we’ve done research and various descriptive analytics projects that have helped us better understand which factors are important to finding a good prospect. What does a major gift prospect look like before they give? What makes a good grateful patient prospect? We’ve been able to incorporate this into our scores and filters to better guide D.O.s to good prospects when sending lists.

    More recently, the sophistication in the data points we use to score or filter a list has increased as well. I’ve started learning SQL so that I can pull data that’s not included in our preexisting reports, and be more flexible on what I include. For example, on a list for young alumni I can include an indicator of whether or not they played a sport or participated in a student activity, which we don’t typically include on other lists.

    The future of prospect lists for us holds a couple more big changes. My organization has started using Cognos for reporting purposes now, and I’m learning to build reports with it. In the future, I hope to build more nuanced self-service list-building reports that will allow people to filter for capacity, affinity, giving, etc. as they see fit (but guided by our knowledge of what factors are most helpful in looking for good prospects). We also now have a data analyst who is capable of creating much more complex and mathematically sound scores, so in the future we’ll have more scores to help narrow and filter lists. Check out his blog if you’re technically-minded. Right now he is working on a big project that will (theoretically) be able to score each prospect in the database against each allocation in the database, so that he won’t have to create a score for giving likelihood to this or that unit or type of allocation, he can just add up or average a prospect’s score for all the allocations that fit that unit/allocation type. Imagine the kind of on-the-fly list scoring we could do!

    I look forward to finding ever-better ways to deliver research and vet prospects for D.O.s. The volume of our prospect pool and the demands on our time mean that we’ll never be able to hand-pick prospects for every list someone requests, and I think this pressure has and will continue to spur innovation in our work.

  • 27 Nov 2017 4:43 PM | Anonymous
    By: Colleen Reese

    The Fall 2017 Apra Colorado conference featured two amazing speakers who really got us thinking with information about their research and projects on the topic of Women in Philanthropy. If you missed the conference, you can learn a little more from the blog of our keynote speaker, Preeti Gill: Diversity Driven Data. We also got to learn about Colorado State University’s initiative for women in philanthropy. Turns out Apra Colorado and CSU aren’t the only Coloradans with an eye on women’s philanthropy.

    In 2009, the University of Colorado Boulder’s School of Education created a giving circle focused on their female donors, which they called Women Investing in the School of Education (WISE). Members of WISE commit at least $1000 per year for three consecutive years and then meet each year to determine which projects they would like to support using their pooled funds. Thirty WISE members (with total giving now over $250,000) hear proposals from the School’s faculty, often working with graduate students, and then vote on where to allocate their group donations. One great benefit of the WISE program is engaging donors directly with the innermost workings of the School’s faculty and students. Lorrie Shepard, Dean Emerita of CU Boulder’s School of Education says, “WISE members value the opportunity to connect with the faculty and others who care about the same issues.” Among many noteworthy impacts, WISE donations have helped benefit educational research for under-privileged students, prepare future teachers to be better educators, and support statewide outreach in art education.

    The WISE program came from a burgeoning fundraising program – the School of Education got its first full-time fundraiser in 2005 ? and the Dean’s desire to seek more engagement from the School’s nearly 80% female alumni base. Inspired by a similar program that was successfully launched at Fontbonne University in Missouri, the School of Education at CU Boulder created their own focus on women in philanthropy. Eight years after its inspired beginnings, Assistant Dean for Development Ann Scott feels the group has become true insiders and devotees of the School of Education. WISE members have grown in their philanthropy, many giving beyond $1000 a year and a number have given major gifts and created scholarships; however, the group has stayed true to its foundations of collaborative giving.

    This successful women-focused program truly engages its supporters in learning about and supporting the issues and mission of the School of Education and give us all a fantastic example of how women are impacting philanthropy in Colorado.

    Information in this article was obtained through a 2012 WISE brochure and personal interviews with Ann Scott, Assistant Dean for Advancement at CU Boulder’s School of Education, and Margot Neufeld, Assistant Vice Chancellor of Parent Giving and Boulder Advancement Programs.

    Have a story to share? Contact Colleen to talk shop or write a blog post:


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