A regular reaction from people when I explain what I do is, “Wow! How did you get in to that?” I have finally gotten comfortable being honest — I learned it all from World of Warcraft, a massively-multiplayer online game in which players complete quests, fight monsters and interact with other players around the world to overcome incredible odds. Over the course of the 10 years that I played, I came to be ranked as one of the top 40 healers in the world, out of nearly 10 million players at the time. Achieving this level of high performance would have been impossible without data. In fact, one of the first analytic models I created was used to calculate if pieces of armor I acquired were upgrades. My love of data and spreadsheets grew from there.
One of the most crucial components of being a world-ranked or “bleeding edge” player is a slick user interface (UI). World of Warcraft allows players to build their own addons and make modifications to create robust heads up displays (HUDs) and UIs. We also have robust dashboarding to monitor and improve our personal and team performance. This experience taught me a few key points that translated well into prospect development.
"If you can’t see the fire, you will stand in the fire."
UIs like the one pictured below are common in World of Warcraft. Players think the more information, the better. Playing at the highest levels has taught me that this is not the case. The most effective UI makes the work that doesn’t need critical thinking fade into the background, so you are left focusing on the things that truly matter. In other words, you must be able to see the fire on the ground to know to move out of the fire.
A more streamlined UI like the one pictured below would be more successful. Things like pop-up alerts when an action needed to be taken, or color coding to indicate when you were safe or in danger were key to helping your mind quickly interpret a changing landscape.
The same is true for developing dashboards for our fundraisers. Clear away the clutter and push forward the information they need to make critical decisions. Push prospects who have shown an increase in capacity or attachment score, rather than just those who are aging. Push information like contacts by other development officers, rather than pushing their own contact report to their dashboard. Use color alerts to let them know if they are on track. Nest information so they are only digesting summary information when relevant and allow them to drill in for more detail. Cleverly-designed dashboards can even gamify qualification and portfolio reviews, turning these processes into a quest for valuable nuggets of information.
Clear Away Mental Clutter
Just like visual clutter, it is important to clear away mental clutter. In World of Warcraft, this meant that you wouldn’t pick up spells you didn’t need, or you would choose a more streamlined spell rotation if it meant you could react and move more effectively.
In prospect development, this can be translated to fundraiser portfolios. Help them remove prospects that are not truly qualified. Find a way to offload prospects that have been temporarily disqualified or in perpetual stewardship and create business rules that will bubble these people up if needed. This will allow your fundraisers to focus on truly qualified prospects, rather than having a portfolio bloated by people they are not actively cultivating.
When developing affinity scores or models, find a way to digest the information for fundraisers and articulate the action plan. For example, rather than assigning prospects a confusing, fluctuating score based on multiple factors on a 122-point scale to indicate attachment, the Research, Prospect Management, and Analytics teams at LSUF developed easily digestible donor profiles (seen below). These group certain score combinations (high giving with high engagement for example) to help fundraisers quickly prioritize who they would reach out to when traveling to a new region. This eliminates the mental clutter of remembering what the acronym components stand for and what constitutes a “good G” versus a “bad D” and helps them quickly develop strategies that align with the profile.
When Sharing Dashboards, Know Your Culture
Creating transparency through data is a great way to evaluate who is performing well and identify ways to replicate and build on their success. However, doing so without a healthy culture of accountability can lead to negative feelings toward the prospect development team.
In World of Warcraft, players for teams are called “guilds.” Guilds are groups of people that you work with closely to coordinate raids against bosses that are insurmountable alone, to complete complex and challenging quests, and any other in-game activity that is done better together. For example, a raid is an in-game experience with several challenging bosses that your guild must fight to advance the story line and gain experience or gear upgrades. One raid may take months to clear, raiding nightly for hours at a time. In this rigorous environment, healthy guilds set ground rules. Constructive feedback was always given in private, by the team leads, and discussions about performance were strictly banned in the middle of a big raid. Metrics were agreed upon by those who ultimately had to meet them, and common working groups, like all the raid healers, would evaluate their group performance together on a regular basis.
These experiences were instructive when implementing performance metrics for our frontline team. Consider a committee for developing a metrics framework, and make sure that fundraisers across all levels are in the room and well represented. Share what the data are telling you and listen back for context. Once metrics are defined, create equity by pushing out the same information to everyone. We push out our dean’s dashboards (below) monthly and include time with our associate vice president for development to walk through them with the dean and their development officer. We created a metrics council which includes both prospect development staff and fundraisers. They evaluate what metrics are truly moving the needle and agree as a group on what feels both aspirational and realistic. This has led to a culture where development embraces performance analysis. Fundraisers at all levels regularly reach out to the prospect development team to explore new ways to improve.
Recognize a Job Well Done
It’s just as important to take the time to call out success when you see it. In World of Warcraft, we had the “clutch save award” where we would call out a raid member that had saved the day through a critical move or play. I won this award once near the end of a raid, on our last boss. We had already been raiding for hours and this was our final push before calling it a night. As we moved into the final phase I could see that our Death Knight, the player most responsible for damaging the boss, was out of position. He was about to get knocked off a platform which would surely mean a wipe — an outcome in which the boss kills everyone and the fight is over. I called out for him to move, but it was too late; I knew from experience that he would be too slow to get to safety. As I saw him flying off the ledge, I instinctively cast a spell fondly referred to as “Life Grip.” This spell allows you to reach out and pull a player to you within a certain range. The whole raid began to cheer when they saw our beloved Death Knight reappear on the platform with the rest of the group. In that moment, everyone rallied and we were able to finish off the boss. This kind of team work is infectious, so recognize it when you see it!
If you see two fundraisers collaborating on a “clutch save” for the sake of donor preference, bubble that information up to leadership. When you notice a trend where a fundraiser is particularly quick to qualify new prospects, let them know they are ahead of the curve. When you use data to point out successes, it engenders trust and prevents the perception that our analysis only cares about winners and losers. Recognition of good work helps to build trust and camaraderie, and those are critical components of a healthy accountability driven culture.
Creating visibility, using data to drive decisions in fundraising, and creating a culture that embraces both is no small feat. Successful shops have strong collaboration and partnership between prospect development and the frontline. If you have never played World of Warcraft, you can still learn from this strong performance-based community. Clear away the visual and mental clutter, seek buy-in and build consensus when developing performance metrics, and celebrate wins as a team to build trust and rapport.
Adrian Owen is a fundraising executive with more than thirteen years of experience working in non-profits. She currently serves as the Assistant Vice President for Advancement Services at the LSU Foundation where she leads the departments of Analytics, Donor Relations, Information Services, Records and Data Management, and Research & Prospect Management. She loves working with teams and is training to become a certified Strengths Coach. Adrian has an undergraduate degree in General Studies from Oklahoma State University. In her free time, she is an active community volunteer, serving on Executive Management for the Junior League of Baton Rouge, as a founding member of Capital Area United Way Emerging Leaders, a Baton Rouge Area Chamber Ambassador, and in the 2018 class of Leadership Baton Rouge. She is a former world ranked World of Warcraft player and remains an active gamer.