Confessions of a Former Fundraiser

scot henley
vp of sales and marketing

Of all the things I cherish about my time leading a nonprofit organization over much of the last decade, it’s the relationships with donors that I loved the most. As executive director, I played the primary major gifts fundraising role for our $2.2 million, 30-employee organization. I was the guy who built relationships, represented the cause, shared the vision and asked for support. The cause we were advancing was very special and our work was important, so I was so proud to be out there cultivating donor relationships and raising money.


I traveled all over New England, meeting at kitchen tables, coffee shops, cluttered desks and board rooms, sharing conversations with great people about our mutual interest in the cause and their abundant generosity. It was incredibly fulfilling work, and I heard “yes” a lot more than I ever heard “no.” I loved it.

Let’s be clear, however—I was far from batting a thousand. There were many times when we were simply wrong, dead wrong. Wrong donor, wrong time, wrong interest, wrong ask. Some of those visits were a little embarrassing, some were easily laughed off, some really stung. Several of those moments have been etched into my memory as I’ve transitioned into the tech sector.

The reality of fundraising is that the most thorough prospect research, the strongest hunches, and the most educated guesses can ultimately lead to dead ends. Most nonprofits don’t have endless time, money and resources to burn, so managing that risk and reducing guesswork is critical.

Knowing what I know now, the secret to more fundraising success was right under my nose. Our own data—our donor database, spreadsheets, social media engagement, wealth screenings, event attendance, volunteer info, all of it—could have been utilized together to sharpen our focus and yield more results. The problem, however, is that there was no way to pull all that data together in a way that was useful and efficient.

My development team and I could have benefitted from Rapid Insight’s suite of software. It takes data from any source, blends it, cleans it and extracts intelligence from it. Then, it quickly and easily examines the strength of relationships between variables and predicts which donors are the most apt to give as a result of prior behavior. It is made to be easy and intuitive, so you don’t need to be a data scientist or a statistician. You can just be you, armed with new powers to predict your fundraising future!

We’ll never take the guesswork completely out of fundraising, but nonprofit leaders have a game-changing opportunity to bring predictive methods to their strategy that can help reduce risk and boost efficiency. It can help you focus on building relationships with the right people. After all, that’s what fundraising is all about.

And maybe, just maybe, you won’t have to hear the word “no” very often.

To help you learn more, Rapid Insight is hosting a special series of webinars for fundraisers. On September 27, we’ll focus on using data to get the most out of your year-end appeal. And on October 13, an accomplished development professional will talk about real-world applications of how to use predictive analytics in fundraising. Please join us!