Addressing the Way We Use Data: Q&A With Apra Expanse Keynote Robert Wicks


Apra Expanse is around the corner (March 29-30), bringing data science and prospect development professionals together for a two-day virtual deep dive into all things data science. To preview the event, we spoke with Apra Expanse keynote Robert Wicks, vice president of philanthropy and CEO of the Gladstone Foundation.

Wicks will present on the tools being harnessed to restore data privacy to customers and donors, as well as implications for these groups based on the emergence of decentralization and Web3. Here, Wicks shares his insight on important contemporary issues surrounding data science. 

What are some of the most common ways individuals misuse data?

I'd say a couple of things. First, data can be very persuasive. It can also help confirm suspicions or biases that we already have. I think it is dangerous to begin with a conclusion and work backward to find the data to support your position. I get why it is so tempting, but I think we have to remain open to the possibility of being surprised or proven wrong by data. And we should celebrate the moments when we are. Secondly, we tend to extrapolate too much from static data points. Snapshots in time. I'm not sure we think enough about longitudinal data and the velocity or cadence at which relationships are moving.  

What is Web3 and how can organizations begin to use it in prospect development?

It is a fair bet that the next iteration of the web will be more decentralized and will present new ways for us to gather and disseminate information (and misinformation). I know we think a lot about disruptive technologies here in the Bay Area.

I would take a longer view when it comes to prospect development. I once heard that a donor's largest gift to an organization tends to be their seventh. I don't know if that's true, but it lines up with my experience. What it points to is the need to meet donors where they are over the course of time, not just at the current moment. There is a lot of fear of missing out on the possibilities of Web3, blockchain, NFTs and the rest. If you feel like your organization is in a position to seize on those opportunities, go for it and share what you learn with the rest of us. Just remember that Web4, 5 and 6 are right around the corner.

What is one major issue that challenges data scientists in prospect development today? 

As a frontline fundraiser, I think my challenges are similar to those in prospect development. We are all in search of the right tools and the patience to use them correctly. Data scientists are deeply curious, high-metabolism thinkers. That can lead to incredible insights, but it also comes at the risk of making things more complex than they need to be, or moving on to a different approach too quickly. It can be tempting to bring a steam shovel to every job, but sometimes all you need is a handpick and a little bit of time.

The world of data science and user privacy is rapidly evolving. What are some sources or ways prospect development professionals can keep a pulse on this field?

If you are asking how you can stay current on the latest trends in data science, those forums and gatherings are not hard to find. I think the more important question is the role prospect development professionals can play in finding ways to drive change rather than observe it. You have massive computational power at your fingertips and some really fascinating data sets to study. You also appreciate the difference between public and private information better than most. My advice: Put your instincts and training to work and go for it!

Learn more about Apra Expanse (March 29-30) and register today!

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