Why Data Is Like a Lab – Needs Love & Attention

Happy Valentine’s Day!  Have you seen this labr-adorable gem kicking around the interwebs?201601_1534_hgadg_smJust too sweet for words, right?

And anybody who’s ever raised a Labrador puppy knows that was a split second of cute amidst a fury of scrambling, petting, biting, jumping and many other gerunds as well.

Last time we talked about data needing rules and structure. Now we talk about data needing love and attention.  Just like a Labrador puppy in training.

Once the rules – a Data Styles Manual or guidelines – are in place, it’s not enough to have them if nobody’s following them and making sure they work.

Data, left to its own devices, will get unruly.  It’ll misbehave.  And I hear you thinking, “It’s not a really a thing.  Data, or a database, is an inanimate object.”

Entropy, though.


(theory)   A measure of the disorder of a system. Systems tend to go from a state of order (low entropy) to a state of maximum disorder (high entropy).

The more information you add to a system, the more likely it is to begin to degrade.  The more you expect of it – or don’t keep up with it – the more likely it is to re-create the messiness that caused the issues to begin with.

The more you ignore a Labrador Retriever, the more likely they are to misbehave.  The more instructions you give (No! Stop! Don’t! Quit! GET DOWN!) the more likely they are to just do their own thing.

Both need attention – love and caring.  TLC.


Training helps.  A lot.  When you work with a reputable dog trainer, you start by learning how your dog processes information – they’re not born speaking human.

Neither are databases. Know what you’re doing when you dive into a database.  Beginning to think the same way a database processes information is a huge help.

And both can smell fear.

Other ways to show some love to your database?

  • Keep it clean – always follow the standards for entry and clean up
  • Keep it limited – only a (very) few people should have actual access to enter/edit data
  • Keep it Up-T0-Date – whenever there’s a patch or an upgrade to the system, do it.  Your CRM provider is doing that for a reason.
  • Keep it Current – when you get new information about a record, don’t wait.  Change it then.
  • Regular NCOA and email appends
  • Regular wealth screenings

They say when you’re training a dog to set aside one block of time that is just you and the dog.  It builds trust, bonding, sets expectations.

Data’s the same way.  If you’re at all fearful of your data or your database, set aside a block of time once a week, twice a week, whatever your schedule will allow and show your data some love.



Facebook Live

We’ll come back to the discussion about Why Data is Like a Labrador Retriever after this brief digression.

Facebook Live.  Anybody using it in Fundraising?  Annual Fund?

John Haydon is one of those fundraising/digital marketing gurus who should be on your go-to list.  He’s got some great pointers for using it on a blog over at nonprofit hub.

Last night, I had the great pleasure of sitting down with fellow fundraiser Jeanne Hamrick and Nina Radetich, of Radetich Marketing and Media, on her bi-weekly Facebook Live Small Biz Power.

You can watch the whole thing here:


PHENOMENAL experience.  But now I’m kind of obsessing on how Facebook Live could be incorporated into an annual giving program.

Obviously, Nina has a great studio set up, but you wouldn’t need it – in fact, being a little raw might be a benefit.

Off the top my head ideas:

  • Do a virtual gala – stay at home in your jammies and bid on an auction from home
  • Do a “Behind-the-Scenes” tour
  • Interview other donors and ask why they supported
  • Broadcast an appeal from on-campus/on-site
  • Talk to beneficiaries
  • Tell great stories
  • Have an address from the CEO/President/Board Chair
  • Show mission in action as its happening

Animal rescue organizations and dog training orgs are doing a fantastic job of sharing live feeds of puppies online.  That will melt your heart.  I fell for one in writing this blog.

Try it out; it’s got potential.

But, as in all good things, let’s not get distracted by Shiny Object Syndrome.  Be thoughtful, be strategic and recognize it’s not the silver bullet you’ve been searching for your flagging annual fund.  But, still . . . don’t forget to add some fun to it, too!

Why Data Is Like a Lab – Rules & Structure

How are Fundraising Databases Like a Labrador Retriever?  Reason #1 – They need Rules, Structure and Consistency

This is Barclay at eight weeks old:

That was a tough year . . .

Dogs, especially new puppies, need rules, structure and boundaries.  And everybody in the “pack” needs to follow the same rules, otherwise you get an animal that doesn’t listen, has behavioral issues and nobody can control.

Most Labrador Retrievers are surrendered to shelters before the age of 2 because of “behavioral issues” – and most of the time it’s because those cute little fuzzy puppies turned into 75 pounds of crazy.  Because of a lack of rules.

How many times a day do you hear, “Our data is just a MESS!”

Same issue . . .

Data needs rules, structures, boundaries.

Without structure, data tends to get messy.  A whole lot of contributing factors – high staff turnover, database changes, aging data, not keeping data updated (NCOA, etc.), data entry issues.

Check out this infographic on the true cost of bad data.  (It’s basically an ad, but it’s good info).  Another ad, but also good info can be found here on the 1-10-100 rule.

The absolute best way to ensure clean, accurate data is to establish clear data protocols that everyone who touches your databaase must adhere to.  It must be inviolable law.

And it must be comprehensive:

  • How are addresses entered (i.e. “St.” vs. “Street”)
  • What are standard salutations (formal vs. informal)
  • What data is collected?
  • How is data used?
  • Who has access?

And 1,000 other questions that need to be answered.  Do a Google search on “Data Standards Manual” and you will find hundreds of examples.  They may seem daunting, but they are comprehensive and serve as great guides.

A Data Standards Manual should live alongside your Branding Guide.  It’s a definitive statement about who you are as an organization and what you value – who you want to contact and how you want to contact them.

Your data is your single greatest resource and asset.  And it needs rules and structure if you want it to behave.

But my data is already a wreck!

That whole “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks” thing?  Yeah, it’s hooey.


You absolutely can.  And you can absolutely clean a messy database.

Slowly, delicately, carefully, one step at a time.  But so worth it in the long run.

Dogs, especially Labrador Retrievers, are eager to please.  They spend their lives basically trying to figure out what we want from them.  They “misbehave” because we haven’t given them the rules.  We haven’t laid out the expectations.

Data is exactly the same way.  Set the expectations and LIVE by them.  The data will follow along.  And you’ll both be happier for it.


Why (Fundraising) Data Is Like a Labrador Retriever

These are Labrador Retrievers:


To be specific, these are MY Labrador Retrievers – left-to-right:  Oliver, Barclay and Tucker Buck-White, aka The Buck-White Boys.

Labrador Retrievers – or labs – have been the most popular dog in the United States for twenty-five years.  They’re great, great dogs – especially these three knuckleheads.

Bred to work in the the icy waters of Newfoundland, they are known for their friendly and good-natured temperament, their easygoing attitude, willingness to learn and to work and for being dependable.  They’re among the top choices for assistance dogs, too.

They are also how this blog got its name – I have labs, it’s a lab for testing ideas – get it?

You gotta love a lab.  I mean, how can you not with these faces?


I never meant to have three labs – they’re really a handful.  I also never meant to really into data, but here we are.  And so – like chocolate and peanut butter, two great tastes that taste great together – somehow labs and data got mixed up in my head and I went, “YES! A fundraising database is JUST like a Labrador Retriever.”

And now you’re looking at me like:










Yes, really.

Databases are just like Labs.  Less drooly and not as fun to snuggle with, but there are a lot of similarities.

So, the Top 10 Reasons Why Fundraising Data Is Like a Labrador Retriever.  Both Data and Labs:

  1. Require Rules, Structure and Consistency
  2. Just Want to Make You Happy
  3. Need Attention
  4. Want to Be Understood
  5. Have to Play
  6. Can Smell Fear
  7. Are Bred to Help
  8. Must Exercise
  9. Need Sustenance
  10. Have to Rest

Over the next few days and weeks we’ll be taking a deeper dive into these similarities.  Just remember, though, any discussion on data – or Labrador Retrievers – should always be followed by a good nap on the sofa:



We have the Greatest Job in the World

Behind every successful program a nonprofit does, there’s a fundraiser.

Behind every political campaign, there’s a fundraiser.

Behind new buildings and programs and scholarships and endowments, there’s a fundraiser.

Behind every donor, there’s a fundraiser.

And fundraisers make it all about the donors.

How awesome is that?  What other profession gets to see dreams come to life, stand back and say, “Wow! I helped that happen!” (Teachers is the answer to that question; their job is pretty incredible, too).

It’s hard.

It’s not for the faint-hearted or the weak.

We have the power in our hands to shape the future.  We get to help people realize their passions.

We get to change the world – sometimes $10 at a time.

So, when it looks bleak, when hope is fading, when it’s all too much, remember . . . we can be the change.  We have to be the change.

When its darkest, we will keep finding the ways to shine light into it.

We’re the bridge, the conduit, the go-between. We get to bring together the people who WANT TO with the people who NEED.

We’re fundraisers.  And we have the Greatest Job in the World.


Did you take some downtime this holiday season?  Rest is good.  R&R is required.

It’s good to get away, think about other things, give the gray matter time to chill and rejuvenate.

If you didn’t – do.  It’s worth it.  You’ll be better for it.

And so will your donors.

We talk about resting lists periodically.  But do we really rest them?  Do we really let a list just chill out for a bit and not hear from us for awhile?

Too often, it’s a numbers game.  Multiple hits, multiple solicitations – the more we solicit, the more we communicate, the higher our return will be.  And we do it because it works.

We get responses and hit goals, but for every gift, how many non-respondents opened our third/fourth/tenth email, rolled their eyes and thought, “Just please stop!”?

Sometimes we need to rest.

Maybe it’s time to let all those year-end donors and prospects chill out for a bit?  Let ’em have a break.  Or maybe let them rest by communicating with them but not asking them?  We hit them pretty hard at year-end.  Say thank you (yes, you can thank a prospect as well as a donor).  Send an update.  Wish them Happy New Year.  But maybe give them a rest.

And you take one, too. Urgency is one thing; exhaustion and fatigue can be the by-product of it, though.

Rest takes a risk sometimes, too.  A risk well worth taking.

How to Write a Thank You Note

I’ve just finished signing 617 Thanksgiving cards.


My own name has taken on semantic satiation.  BUT, I really became aware of the phrases we use to express gratitude:

“Thank You”

“We are grateful”


Those are all first-person statements.  “Thank You” is a truncation of “I/We Thank You.”  So even gratitude becomes about me and not you.  It’s about how I feel.

When, really, especially in a donor-centered annual fund (which isn’t annual at all), our gratitude needs to be about them . . . about the donor . . .

That’s tougher than it sounds when it’s a note on a card, but here’s a few to try:

“You’re Wonderful.”

“You are the best.”

“You made it happen.”

“We are grateful for you.”  (Still a first-person statement, but it’s about them).

“You are so thoughtful/generous/kind”

Don’t tell me how you feel, tell me about me.  It’s my favorite story.



National Philanthropy Day


Here in Las Vegas we’re technically a day late – National Philanthropy Day is officially celebrated on November 15th.  Hey, the space wasn’t available – Blessed are the Flexible.

Feels like it couldn’t come at a better time.  We are looking forward to pausing for a couple of hours and honoring the great work in our community and those who give of themselves so freely, generously and tirelessly.

I have Wordsworth in my head lately:

The world is too much with us; late and soon,
Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers;—
Little we see in Nature that is ours;
We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon!
This Sea that bares her bosom to the moon;
The winds that will be howling at all hours,
And are up-gathered now like sleeping flowers;
For this, for everything, we are out of tune;
It moves us not. Great God! I’d rather be
A Pagan suckled in a creed outworn;
So might I, standing on this pleasant lea,
Have glimpses that would make me less forlorn;
Have sight of Proteus rising from the sea;
Or hear old Triton blow his wreathèd horn.
The World Is Too Much With Us, William Wordsworth

The world IS too much with us – too much news, too much election, too much divisiveness, too much to do . . .

It’s good to pause, stop, look around and see that there IS good in the world.  Great, wonderful, powerful good – people who make a difference in their little corner of the world, people who are showing kindness, patience, love.

Find those people and honor them.  Philanthropy literally means “the love of humankind.”

Maybe we need more than a Philanthropy Day?  Maybe we need a Philanthropy Year?

Or maybe we need to cling to and honor those little philanthropic acts we see every day, every moment.  And recognize ourselves for those times when love of humankind far outweighs “the winds that will be howling at all hours.”philanthropy-jobs.jpg

Implementing Inspiration (Or How to Keep that Post-Conference High)

I attend a fair number of webinars, training sessions and conferences.  I find them rejuvenating, encouraging, stimulating and I always walk away with something I can use or put into practice.  And I really get a lot of energy from being around other fundraisers, annual fund people and smart, energetic, passionate people.

The Nonprofit Storytelling Conference is, wow, an incredible one.  It’s less of a conference and more of a Two-Day Master Class on Steroids and I learned a ton on both Day 1 and Day 2.  I came home with pages of notes and ideas and inspirations.


During one of our sessions, a fellow attendee asked the presenter, “This is all great, but won’t our donors start to recognize these techniques?  If all of us start implementing all of these ideas, won’t we see donor fatigue because everyone’s using the same tactics.”

There was quiet for a minute.

The presenter (I really think it was Tom Ahern), very professionally, replied, “Let’s be honest.  MOST of you aren’t going to go home and change anything.  And that’s not a bad thing, it’s just the reality. You still have boards and CEOs who want to write by committee.  And you still have brand managers that you have to convince.  And you still have 1,000,000 things to do and not enough time or resources to get them done and despite your best intentions, you won’t change a thing.  Some of you will.  But most of you won’t.”

He’s right.

How many GREAT conferences, meetings, webinars, classes, training sessions have you been to that you were all inspired and didn’t actually change a thing?

I’m totally guilty of that.

But that post-conference high is SO GOOD and you REALLY believe you can have the happiest donors on the planet!

And AS SOON AS YOU GET BACK you’re going to get it in gear and MAKE IT HAPPEN!


Then life happens and Boards and CEOS and Committees and TIME and . . . we all know this story.

But you really want to implement all that great stuff.

So . . . . pick one.  Just one.  Do one thing you learned.  Implement one inspiration.  Change one process.  Add one habit.  Just one.

And commit to doing that one thing every day (or week or whatever makes sense for that one thing).

At the Association of Fundraising Professionals (AFP) Conference in Boston this year there was a lot of emphasis on saying Thank You – on exhibiting gratitude. T o donors, volunteers, colleagues – all over.

I can’t remember now what session or speaker it was, but I came away with the idea to spend one hour a day in gratitude.  DO SOMETHING that exhibits gratitude for one hour a day.  Whether that’s writing thank you notes, sending thank you letters, making calls – SOMETHING.

Fortunately, thanking donors is part of my job function, so it worked well for me to implement that one thing.

I get to work, have coffee (because if there’s anything I’m grateful for it’s coffee), review the day’s calendar/to do list, and then spend the first 30 minutes on Thank You.  Sometimes its email, sometimes its written notes, sometimes its letters/receipts.  And if there are calls to be made, I do those either mid-day for 30 minutes or at the end of the day.

It’s now become (almost) habitual.  Do I do it every single day?  Nope.  Not perfect.  But now 7 months on, do I do it MOST days?  Yup.

So, pick one thing that you want to implement and DO THAT THING.

This is from Glennon Doyle Melton, the “Love Warrior” and she’s right.  Go do that one thing and keep your high.



What I Learned at the Nonprofit Storytelling Conference – Day 2

No preamble, right to the list on this one . . . 

  • This really is the best conference out there.  Other conferences look at it and go, “Dang, that’s the conference I want to go to;
  • A human brain can only handle so much Tom Ahern in one day because it just cannot process that much information
  • To wit:  “It is criminally inefficient to suck at Thank You because it’s all you have to offer”  damn
  • What is your SMIT – Single Most Important Thing (to say, tell a donor, etc.).  From Tom Ahern quoting Sean Triner
  • I had a whole mini coaching session with Sean Triner before I knew Who He Is and when I found out it left me a little gobsmacked.  He told me I bored him to tears. It’s true, I did.
  • Sean Triner should absolutely be on your ‘Run, Do Not Walk’ list 
  • The nonprofit space is full of brilliant, caring, compassionate, kind people who are doing great work and are an inspiration. I spent two days with 600 of them
  • We all have very similar challeng . . . er, opportunities . . . And if we tackled them, really tackled them, we could elevate the NPO/fundraising space to incredible levels
  • We all struggle with a lack of respect and understanding of what fundraising is – by our communities, our colleagues, our leadership.  And we have a responsibility to own that fundraising is a specific skill that is learned, trained and honed.  And we have to get much, much better at speaking truth to power on that and claiming our space.  #hallwayconversations
  • FUNDRAISING IS NOT MARKETING AND MARKETING IS NOT FUNDRAISING.  Didn’t actually learn this, just reinforced it
  • I probably “ConferenceTweet” too much, but I get excited.
  • “If you’re not making friends, you’re doing it wrong.” – Andy Crestodina.   Made some friends this week.
  • Andy Crestodina – online strategy.  Seriously incredible.
  • Marc Pitman says, to extroverts, that people won’t think you’re mad if you close s sentence with a period and not an exclamation point.  I do not believe this.
  • I miss my dogs, now, so that’s the sign of a good trip and it’s time to go home.  
  • Oh, and #FundraisingDogs needs to be a thing – the dogs of fundraisers and a virtual conference for them when all their moms and dads are at conferences.  Who’s in?