The briefest of briefs

by | Jan 16, 2017

Here at PtG we work (and have worked) with many clients on data selections. Very often we are asked to take them on because thus far they’ve not had much luck in getting them right; everything from mailing deceased’s to not being able to get supporters into the right segments.

You guys know how I love to dispel a myth, so let’s crack straight on with it.

Unless it’s the simplest of simple selections, it’s not possible to create a useful selection directly from the database.  I recall I’ve mentioned this before and it’s not that difficult; if you want to put people into more than one or two segments based on some of their transactional history, the data will need to be manipulated outside of the database.

This brings me nicely onto the subject of this blog.  It’s imperative that if you want a selection with more than one criteria, then you need to document it.  Think of a data brief as a contract between the Selector and the Selectee; the data person and the fundraiser.  It should be the first point of reference for any disputes, but even when consulted I often see the existing brief being no help at all.

Why is this? Why does the brief not act as the definitive detail of what’s being selected?

Most of the briefs I see are poorly constructed and contain very little detail.  Usually they are pulled together by the fundraiser and are written in a fundraiser-style narrative.  OK, except that this particular narrative is unique to that particular fundraiser.  When compared to a brief by their colleague, it has completely different terminology.

How can it be possible to ensure that each selection is consistent when the terminology, which is key to our understanding, is so inconsistent?

Back in the day, at Shelter, we realised this was a problem so we compiled a glossary; the definitive list of terms relating to supporter groups and how they were interpreted in data terms. The need for this was highlighted at a client visit yesterday when I was presented with a narrative and then spent an hour going through it, writing up an additional page of notes all detailing the supporter definitions and the fine details of their giving history. The time taken to do this shows the client why this document is necessary.

Another horror I see is where the data, or IT, team have designed the brief which is unintelligible to the fundraiser. Often the data, or IT, team don’t know enough about fundraising and supporter groups to ask the right questions. Or any questions.

So the moral of this story is, even if the data is poor, develop a comprehensive brief.  Keep the narrative short and the terminology consistent. Ask detailed questions about supporter and giving definitions, “You’re asking for regular givers; are these direct debits, standing orders? What about regular CAF donations, do they count? Are we including weekly lottery players who have a standing order?”, “Cash! What is a cash donation? Responses to appeals? How about emergency appeals? Do you want me to include raffle and merchandise uplift donations? Are we even able to split these out?”

There are so many questions that need to be asked, but if you think about your data briefing process, you could plan to only have to ask a lot of these questions once. But whatever terminology you end up using, whatever your brief ends up looking like, make sure you start with the questions.

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