By Kevin MacDonell and Peter Wylie
Why did I read Score! cover to cover? First, because it was invariably readable. The writing is clear, clever, and conversational. Truly, I found myself reading it on my day off even. Score! defines its goal upfront in the subtitle - Data-driven Success for Your Advancement Team. Success – that one word should make constantly striving development team members take notice. The book makes its point well: non-profits are missing reams of opportunity if their alum or donor statistics are not captured, mined, analyzed, modeled and confidently presented with the specific intent of informing the work of raising money more effectively. Finally, I kept reading it because I believe this book arrived when our institutions it most. Institutional data is a core asset, not to be neglected or squandered, but used to great advantage. Some know that already, but need this nudge to ask others to take notice.
Data analytics to this pair of authors, and now even more so to myself, is ripe ground for reaping the healthy rods of information grain. MacDonell and Wylie ask - and make the case – for the non-profit prospect researcher to farm this rich field and advocate for data’s thoughtful place at the strategy-making table. They repeatedly speak of its worth to both sides of the room, the decision-makers and the data research analysts. Strong logic to use data’s logic.
These two authors bring multiple decades of experience in statistics (Wylie has a PhD in the subject) and in the field of non-profit development. They’ve successfully navigated the years of growth in our data swamped age and have taken the helm here to show us in all the small to large shops of concerned non-profit workers how to smartly rudder through. They provide essential instruction in both hard and soft skills needed to let the data speak. Their years of interactions with clients as they consulted on this subject allow them to write about best and worst instances of data care. Chapters of case studies for work in annual fund, major giving, and planned giving provide practicums in the application of data modeling for those fields. After these, one feels like having steered the channel oneself and adequately ready for a beer with Captains MacDonell and Wylie.
The writers swap authorship of sections and sometimes within a section. This technique allows for multiple stories for personal insight and the depth of a second angle, and thankfully, this never seems padding for equality’s sake but for the richness. It’s another indication of the smart presentation of what could be a mind-numbing subject if inexpertly crafted. I was continuously grateful that the writing spoke with the easy tone of a fine professor to a colleague. I entirely appreciate the stories data tell and try to tell them myself, but MacDonell and Wylie relate their advocacy with a knowing grin that pulled me in to their enjoyment. I only hope to do as well.
Score! is an instruction manual for us in the data rich research departments and for those in strategic planning positions. The soundest message I took is that we researchers can’t be retiring statistic geeks, though the inclinations may be there, but confident, walking instruction manuals ourselves. The use of data analytics is crucial and skills to view and model can be self-taught. Score! will remain a smart read for non-profit development staffers for a long while. It’s not one for the reference shelf, but one that must be shared.
Book review by
Susan Bridgers, Director of CFR Prospect Research, University Development, UNC-Chapel Hill