Jan 30 2017

How MSU Turns Data into Donations

When raising money, good timing is essential. That’s why Michigan State University uses Big Data tools from IBM — SPSS, Cognos and Watson — to identify not only who is more likely to support its mission, but also the best way to approach them.

MSU gathers 177 touchpoints for each stakeholder, combining university records with data from potential donors’ tweets, Facebook comments and other social media activity. It then runs sentiment analysis to determine if potential donors feel positive about the university and might be likely to make a financial investment.

“IBM’s predictive analytics tools enable us to focus our gift officers on the right relationships at the right time,” says Monique Dozier, MSU’s assistant vice president of advancement information systems and donor strategy.

In some cases, this type of data analysis can increase the probability of donations up to 85 percent. MSU can also use data to determine whether athletic events are better fundraising vehicles than academic ones, or if regional events are more effective than those on MSU’s East Lansing campus.

So far MSU’s seven-year Empower Extraordinary campaign has raised more than $1.1 billion and will likely exceed its $1.5 billion goal by the time it concludes in 2018, says Dozier. The funds will enable MSU to create 3,000 new scholarships, double the number of endowed faculty positions and pump more money into research programs.

Data alone isn’t enough. Donors must have the ability and the desire to give. But predictive analytics helps MSU focus efforts where they will be most effective. “The tools aren’t raising the money,” says Dozier. “But they’re making us more efficient in our ability to transform data into information we should be paying attention to.”

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