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Back and better than ever...

Back and better than ever...

Well, without meaning to I've let over three weeks slip by without a single post. I figured it was high time I posted an update lest you all think I was trapped under something heavy (When Harry Met Sally reference, yes you're welcome).

2013 is off to a great start for me, and I hope for you. Lots of more detailed posts to come but here are a few tidbits of what has me thinking and wondering:

  • First meeting of the Invisible Children board last week. What this group has done and continues to do is nothing short of amazing to me; more to come in the next weeks and months. I couldn't be more honored to be a board member.
  • Spending time applying non-linear regression models to fundraising data -- oh dear, this is really more interesting than it sounds. Hopefully I'll have some way to illustrate that in coming weeks! Stay with me people...
  • Speaking of fundraising data, I'm presenting at the annual Run-Walk-Ride Conference again this year. It's become an annual ritual I very much look forward to. If you're going to be down in Atlanta March 13-14, drop me a line so we can connect.
  • Speaking of fundraising data again, Chuck Longfield of Target Analytics/Blackbaud presented some helpfully alarming statistics about donor retention last week at the Nonprofit DMA conference that are worth your review. I say "helpfully alarming" because there have been people in the industry (like myself, ahem) trying to highlight the need for better engagement for years. Seems like no one wants to listen to the idea that engagement is hard work. Twitter is great for communicating but it ain't gonna magically create more donors for ya! Trust me on this. I'm hoping Chuck's presentation will rattle some cages. More here.
  • Switching the subject before I fall off my high horse, we've recently launched the 2013 Muckfest MS, a series of 18 obstacle races. Think Wipeout. With mud. And beer. You need it. Give it a look here.
  • Ulrich Schnauss, who has the best name in music, released his new album A Long Way To Fall today. I love everything he does and would recommend it without question.
  • Speaking of music, am I the only one who thinks the new version of iTunes is atrocious?

See, I'm back. :-) More soon.

Another way to look at Hurricane Sandy donations.

Another way to look at Hurricane Sandy donations.

Figure 1: Disaster giving over the last decade. Click to enlarge.

I wanted to follow on Monday's post about the fundraising results from Hurricane Sandy. If you remember, some observers have commented on the fact that the overall donations generated following Sandy have fallen far short of other recent disasters.

Let's first take a look at the fundraising results we looked at on Monday. Figure 1 shows the results of post-disaster fundraising from five recent disasters: the Indian Ocean earthquake and tsunami, Hurricane Katrina, the Haitian earthquake, the Japan earthquake and tsunami, and Hurricane Sandy. The numbers estimate U.S. private giving three weeks after each disaster.

Setting aside for a moment the tragic thought that there seem to be an increasing number of severe natural disasters, we can see that yes, there does appear to be a downward trend in response. Note that I did not access primary data for the graph, and so there are likely to be inevitable inconsistencies in how the numbers were measured. In fact, I can guarantee we're not looking at a strictly apples-to-apples comparison. But we're interested in order of magnitude, and in that sense we can see that both Hurricane Sandy and the Japan earthquake and tsunami seem to have inspired notably less generosity from the U.S. than the other three disasters.

But is that the whole story? Is giving perhaps related to the overall scale of the disaster?

This is where we find ourselves on tricky ground both ethically and empirically. From an impact standpoint, scale is certainly a matter of perspective. Even one lost home, pet, or loved one is heartbreaking. How can we quantify physical loss and emotional pain? If your heart aches, it aches. 

On the data side, we're on equally rocky footing. I attempted to see if I could quantify the scale of each disaster in economic cost. Given enough time, I could probably find the correct sources and create normalized data -- but I can tell you it does not appear to be an easy task. For example, the economic loss from Katrina is estimated to be far higher than that of the Indian Ocean earthquake and tsunami -- in large part because of the amount of development on the Gulf Coast as opposed to that in rural India. But does that make Hurricane Katrina more tragic?

Figure 2. Disaster impact as measured in overall loss of life. Click to enlarge.

What if we turn to a more verifiable -- and macabre -- statistic: Number of deaths. These statistics are, sadly, very easy to find. And, without sounding crass, they do not need to be indexed for inflation. Figure 2 presents total confirmed deaths attributed to each disaster.

What do we see? Well, we see a different picture. It's hard not to be struck by the enormity of the crises in the Indian Ocean and Haiti. Again, this is not to say that the other disaster weren't crises; our attempt here is to find a way to compare the relative impact. The overall loss of life from the disasters in the U.S. was far less than the disasters in other parts of the world. 

Figure 3. U.S. giving as compared to loss of life. Click to enlarge.

Now let's go back to the giving numbers. We now have enough information to take our data analysis one level deeper. Figure 3 shows a basic scatterplot of U.S. giving as compared to overall loss of life. In this admittedly very small dataset we can see we have two groupings: A linear trend for overseas disasters, and a separate, very steep cluster for the U.S. disasters. 

All of which takes us to figure 4, which shows dollars donated per death. From this graph we can see that on a relative sense, the response to Hurricane Sandy is the most generous by far. It is a grisly metric, to be sure -- and let me say once again that I in no way mean to imply that some losses are more important than others.

What I am trying to do is show that the truth is often in the interpretation. In matters of giving data, as in most things, it is worth doing a bit more digging before deciding you have the whole picture. I don't contend that figure 4 is the whole story, either -- but it is a valuable addition to the discussion.

Figure 4. Donations per death. Click to enlarge. 

For my part, I do not believe that our country is less generous, or less responsive, or weary of providing relief. I believe that people give according to the perceived scale of the impact. At least on this  measure, the response to Hurricane Sandy has been laudable. At a time of political weariness, economic sluggishness, and sustained appeals for help, we continue to respond to the call. 

Cool - and sobering - visual on homicide data.

The always fantastic, highly recommended Data Blog at the Guardian just published this engrossing Tableau-based interactive visualization on worldwide homicide rates. Not the cheeriest of weekend topics, but worth a quick look. (I tried to embed the code here but Squarespace wasn't having it, and trouble-shooting javascript doesn't seem like a good Saturday morning activity!)

For example, there has been a lot of talk in Chicago this year about the alarming increase in homicides -- but Chicago doesn't even make this list! New York is the only U.S. city in the top 60 or so in the visualization. Makes one count one's blessings...

In any case, I thought it was worth sharing. One of the many things I like about Tableau is that shared visualizations like this come with the data embedded -- in other words, you can download the data yourself to inspect it. 

Click to interact.

Click to interact.

Pareto's Principle in Fundraising: An Interactive Example

Over the last few months, I’ve presented and written quite a bit about Pareto’s Principle in fundraising. Better known as the “80-20 Rule,” the idea is simple: Most of the money we raise comes from a small number of donors. This dynamic shows up in nearly every campaign I’ve worked on. Even so-called “grassroots” campaigns are heavily dependent on a small number of donors; just because we ask for small gifts doesn’t mean all of our donors contribute equally.

What is just as amazing to me as the math, however, is the fact that many people have trouble getting their heads around the idea. Even though most of us use donor pyramids and gift tables every day, it is often hard to understand how even massive programs are really driven by small percentages of donors.

This interactive graphic, built from actual campaign data, is designed to help illustrate Pareto’s Principle. Click on any gift level to see how many donors contributed at that level — and how much of the total revenue those gifts represented.

All of this begs at least two questions: Are you trying to grow large numbers of donors or are you spending time finding and cultivating donors who are connected to you? And do you treat donors equally or do you talk to them differently based on how important they are to you?  

Click to interact.

Click to interact.