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What's the Donor Tipping Point for Non for Profit Fund-raising?

Posted by plosmedicine on 31 Mar 2009 at 00:14 GMT

Author: Mark Arnold Fredrickson
Position: Medical Technology Consultant
Institution: Chicago
Submitted Date: September 23, 2007
Published Date: September 24, 2007
This comment was originally posted as a “Reader Response” on the publication date indicated above. All Reader Responses are now available as comments.

How should a non-for-profit fund-raiser approach a group of well-meaning donors when technology makes it easy to call their cell phones and homes night and day? Will that additional call at the margin improve or diminish resulting donations?

Three recent articles, one in the Wall Street Journal (09/14/07) and the remaining two appearing the New York Times (09/16/07) may help those who prefer a reasoned approach to discover the best way to increase the number of donor appointments booked by call center agents. The advantage of this approach is that the methodology is based upon the fundamentals of scientific research. Observed behavior invites hypothesis. Next, test the initial conclusion. Distinguish things which appear to have a cause and effect relationship from co-incidence. Finally, confirm or refute the initial observation. Continue asking questions until you discover the answer. Remain skeptical.

Skepticism seems justified by WSJ columnist Robert Lee Hotz's 'Most Science Studies Appear to be Tainted by Sloppy Analysis.' Hotz cites a recent critical analysis of leading scientific research written by Dr. John Ioannidis, an epidemioligist who studies research methods. Flawed findings "stem not from fraud or formal misconduct, but more from mundane misbehavior: miscalculations; poor study design or self-serving data analysis." The real challenge is whether other scientists are able to replicate research findings. Recall those fusion studies twenty years ago?

Hotz explains flawed scientific studies by writing that "science suffers from an excess of significance. Overeager researchers often tinker too much with the statistical variables of their analysis to coax any meaningful insight from their data sets." Headlines grab the public's attention and lucrative research grants.

"Every new fact discovered through experiment represents a foothold in the unknown. In a wilderness of knowledge, it can be difficult to distinguish error from fraud, sloppiness from deception, eagerness from greed or, increasingly, scientific conviction from partisan passion," writes Hotz. Mix conservative politics with embryonic stem cell research and presto--a cauldron stewing with headline grabbing error and statistical flaw.

One of the biggest challenges facing an organization is resisting the pressure to reach a conclusion which serves the organization’s short-term interests while preventing further discussion which may better serve the group’s longer term objectives.

The hypothesis before us today is whether there is a cause and effect relationship between a non-for-profits call center operations and donor generosity.

What have we learned from all of our quantitative reports? Call center management system software offers algorithmic call assignment and exhaustive quantitative analysis. We know which jobs are run, at what times, how many call center agents are logged in to converse with prospective donors, the duration of their calls, and so much more. We may measure when prospective donors agree to scheduled appointments with the respective call center agents. As with any occurrence, the question remains how might we explain whether the former causes the latter?

Two things may happen concurrently without having a cause and effect relationship. Coaching, training and motivating employees may better explain recent success than the co-incidence that non-for-profit donors were willing to answer the call after a busy weekend, while watching Monday night football on a mild weather evening in September.

Competing interests declared: My extended family may include the former head of the US National Institute of Health - Donald Sharp Fredrickson.