How Bias Can Creep Into Fundraising Data — And What We Can Do About It

  • - June 25, 2021

Many people believe that their daily lives and interactions are the product of their conscious decisions. However, according to a neuroscience think tank, our subconscious drives a whopping 95% of our actions, shaping our perceptions of and interactions with ourselves, others, and the world around us. 

These subconscious actions are built to help us make quick decisions in the complicated world around us. But what happens when subconscious bias creeps in? In fundraising, biases can shape the ways that data systems are designed — and the way that we collect and interpret data. 

Fundraising consultants and nonprofit development professionals know how critical data is to our programs — but how often do we stop to consider how data bias might be creeping into the data systems we rely on every day to make important fundraising decisions? 

Data bias can creep into our fundraising programs in many different areas. For example, consider how nonprofits attract and cultivate their audience of donors and supporters. It’s not uncommon for small or newly created nonprofits to begin to build their files with personal contacts or people they meet at conferences and other professional settings — and there’s nothing wrong with that! But it’s important to remember that those kinds of contacts are a small subset of people who likely share similar beliefs, values or interests. Evaluating your program’s performance based on that subset alone excludes broad swaths of potential donors outside of that group, which could leave valuable dollars on the table down the line. 

Luckily, it’s possible — and totally doable! — to address and mitigate bias in fundraising data. As one example, development professionals can utilize list co-ops, an acquisition tactic that enables nonprofits to receive a list of prospective donors from a co-operative database. From list co-ops to rigorous testing to regular re-evaluation of your data collection practices against your fundraising mission, you can ensure that your team is creating more equitable data practices. 

Want to learn more? If you’re attending the 2021 Bridge Conference — a must for fundraisers of all stripes! — come check out our session! Ashley Bryant-Baker, Fresh Eyes’ Director of Data and Analytics, will discuss her insights on how to mitigate bias in data with some of our amazing clients on Wednesday, July 14, from 11:30 am – 12:30 pm ET (Breakout 1). We hope to see you there!

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