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Volume 1, Issue 4

Use Data to Identify Best Practices

How do you know your organization is doing the best job possible? An expert at last month’s CASE Summer Institute in Advancement Services told managers that they should rely on data-driven analyses to identify and promote best practices in all of their projects.

Jon Thorsen, director of advancement services at the Nature Conservancy and chair of the Association of Advancement Services Professionals’ best practices committee, said managers should use data to determine best practices in their operations, selecting those that meet one or more of the following standards:

  • Most effective—leading to best results
  • Most efficient—requiring fewest resources
  • Most productive—leading to the fewest problems

He acknowledged that it is sometimes difficult for a best practice to meet more than one of these standards at the same time. For example, the “most effective” practice may not always be the “most efficient.” Still, he added, the key to making wise decisions is listening to what the data tell you about your past decisions.

Though he admitted that his advice may be self-evident to some managers, Thorsen said many educational institutions—like other nonprofit organizations—are averse to making data-driven decisions in their everyday operations.

“Information is the currency we trade in,” Thorsen told Advancement Weekly in an interview. “If we don’t change the way we do business in response to what the information is telling us, then why are we producing the information?”

For example, Thorsen noted that he has never worked on a fundraising campaign with an organization that, at campaign’s end, had met with more than two-thirds of its prospective donors. By not tracking the data—and, in this example, full prospective donor lists—he noted that the campaigns were likely not as effective as they could have been.

Thorsen also noted that many development offices do not track the fundraising effectiveness of individual development professionals to determine if they are meeting their potential. By ignoring these kinds of data, he said, an institution may be shortchanging itself.

Data-driven decision-making helps managers know when it’s time to change an approach or process, he added.

“I don’t have many management rules in my office, but one thing I’ll never take as an answer is ‘We’ve always done it that way,’” Thorsen said. “To me, that just means you’ve never thought of different ways to do it.”

This article is from the August 1, 2011 issue.

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