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DRIVE/ing the Point Across: Whether MARC, NEDRA, DAS/APRA or Any Other Name - Get Thee to a Conference!

Tue, March 31, 2015 11:23 AM | Laura Parshall

NEDRA board member James Cheng, assistant director of analytics at the Dana Farber Cancer Institute, has recently returned from the DRIVE/ conference, and has some enthusiastic advice for all of us: attend a conference! (How convenient, then, that the NEDRA Annual Conference is coming up so soon.)


DRIVE/ing the Point Across: Whether MARC, NEDRA, DAS/APRA or Any Other Name - Get Thee to a Conference!


by James Cheng


I had the privilege of attending the DRIVE/ (Data Reporting Information Visualization Exchange) conference, and the APRA-sponsored overDRIVE, a couple of weeks ago. Being a first-time DRIVE/r, I quickly got exposed to novel and titillating ideas such as “Goals are for losers” and “Passion is overrated.” (Thank you, Dilbert creator Scott Adams!)


To be honest, I wasn't sure how much I would enjoy the conference as work projects, life events, and everything in between dwell on my mind. Of course, with DRIVE/ and overDRIVE being for those who focus on data management, analysis and communication, I thoroughly wished it lasted longer than just three short days!

Beyond information dissemination and networking opportunities as part of our professional development, conferences also allow us to collaborate and be inspired in ways that would not be probable in the “regular 9 to 5.” For me, one gratifying moment during the conference turned out to be a “fireside chat” with colleagues from another healthcare fundraising analytics shop. We spent the time bouncing ideas with one another, trying to solve a particular predictive modeling dilemma. Having in-person interactions was crucial to generating and evolving those ideas that even remote/online meetings wouldn't fully capture.


Another example involves comparing and contrasting different services and products. The technical sessions and vendor booth demonstrations were extremely informative during the conference. With that said, trading notes about different vendor services and products and getting first-hand user experiences directly from colleagues allowed all of us attendees to benefit from one and another.


Alongside being places for collaboration and idea exchange, conferences inspire professional creativity. One of the guest DRIVE/ speakers, Rayid Ghani, worked as the Chief Data Scientist for the Obama 2012 campaign. He explained how he utilized analytics/data science in predicting for different outcomes along a quadrant map delineating for whom a voter will vote (Obama or Romney) by how likely individuals will actually vote. As Mr. Ghani's keynote peculated in my mind during an overDRIVE Q&A session, I became inspired to replace the familiar “capacity & activity” quadrants for prospect management with stock-rating “risk & reward” quadrants, imagining prospect managers like the “Morningstar” investment researchers of prospect “stocks” within a gift officer's portfolio.


Another inspiration came as my mind drifted during an introductory session on data science. Admittedly, in true confession style, I let my mind wander but remained seated physically, trying not to leave any session within the first fifteen minutes of presentation. However, that time allowed me to think about the history and evolution of research from “reactive research” to “proactive research.” The “Eureka!” moment suddenly appeared to me that the next evolution leap for the research profession would be “predictive research!”


What do the constructs of “risk” and “reward” look like in prospect management terms? If and/or how would “risk” and “reward” be measured or encapsulate something more than what “capacity and activity” or even “wealth and philanthropy” would? What WOULD “predictive research” look like; would it simply be another way of predicting for principal/major gift donors?


If and/how would “predictive research” benefit the philanthropy pipeline; would it actually help in predicting for wealth events (or something else), such that prospect ID/proactive researchers would not have to wait for news alerts or manually flip through newsprint daily?


These are the kinds of ideas and questions I hope I and/or others get to ask as we collaborate with and inspiring others at future conferences!

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