3 min read

Focus on the Customer: How The American Red Cross Architected a 360-view

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If you Google, “What makes a successful fundraising campaign?”, the first page is filled with results about the importance of trust and awareness, communicating your message effectively and concisely, and the power of emotion. I’m not debating that these are essential elements.

However, I believe there are those individuals who we don’t normally celebrate or shine a light on but are absolutely critical to the success of any fundraising campaign.

In my experience, many nonprofit organizations have a passable data management system, which generally gets the job done. They might have one or two people who really know the system, but enterprise data management is often not prioritized as an organizational goal.

I work with the American Red Cross on their direct response program, providing analysis, insights and strategic direction in a data and analytics capacity. I could tell you all about the amazing things that the American Red Cross does on a regular basis, from disaster preparedness and mitigation to blood services, from safety training to supporting our troops. Just check out their annual report to get the full picture.

At the American Red Cross, there’s a team of experts who provides the data knowledge, modeling, optimization techniques and general technical know-how that help fuel this program.  They are as critical to program success as the fundraising message. This team — Marketing Optimization and Data Strategy (or MODS) — is unique; I haven’t encountered another nonprofit organization with this type of data engagement. MODS partners with the fundraising and development teams seamlessly, providing guidance rooted in data-centered program assessments.

I was lucky enough to catch some time to chat with two of these data caretakers and ask them about MODS, fundraising and working for the American Red Cross.

Jack Schwaner, Marketing Automation Manager on the MODS team, reminded me of how MODS was conceived. About 10 years ago, MODS was developed “to focus on the customer, with all the rage of a 360-degree view.” The American Red Cross was ahead of its time in the nonprofit space, as many nonprofit organizations have only really begun focusing on the customer experience (CX) in the past five years or so. This customer-centricity runs through the American Red Cross data ecosystem, using elements from all lines of business to provide the best supporter experience possible. Jack and his team are the glue, “factoring all of these elements together [and] assembling a list of donors that can make a difference.”

Nadav Rindler, Senior Data Scientist on the MODS team, describes his role as “generating insights and recommendations that help identify the best use of marketing investments to reach the right donors, through the right channels, at the right time.” This is a tall order, but the growth and strength of the American Red Cross fundraising program is proof that these selection techniques are wildly successful. Nadav also adds, “The best part about leveraging data science for fundraising is that we too can quantify our impact in terms of dollars raised and conversions driven.” I couldn’t agree more — measuring the impact of our work is critical for knowing what’s working well and when to pivot.

And a theme that both Jack and Nadav mentioned is that MODS’ success has been a collaborative effort that requires an agile mindset. The work doesn’t happen in isolation. The data being collected and utilized today is different than what was imagined when MODS was first conceived a decade ago. It’s a living, shifting environment. The entire organization acknowledges, celebrates and has a strategic plan in place to focus on CX and how data can be used to move the organization forward.

But, what if your organization hasn’t yet taken the structural shift toward a full 360-degree view of the supporter experience? Here are some quick ways to jump-start the process:

  • Take an inventory of all the data you’re storing (e.g., donations in a donor management system, pet adoption info, volunteer preferences and schedules, etc.)
  • Work toward using a single unique identifier across systems; most software has the ability to store secondary keys
  • Identify KPIs for success in this process (e.g., being able to effectively segment your file using volunteer-based data, or sending an annual thank-you letter to pet adopters on their adoption anniversary)
  • Get executive buy-in and understanding on why a customer-centric data ecosystem will improve performance

I applaud organizations such as the American Red Cross, who truly put forward a thoughtful, customer-forward approach to data, marketing and fundraising. Thank you, Jack and Nadav, for sharing your expertise and experiences with me, and for being true exemplary data caretakers.