Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Relationship Mapping for Major Gift

Ever since I attended David Lamb’s presentation at APRA Canada last fall, I had been experimenting with NodeXL, a free data visualization plug-in for relationship mapping and trying to figure out how best to use this tool for prospect research.  I have arrived at the conclusion that while most data visualizations and social network analysis are used to analyze group behaviors, that application might not be too valuable in prospect research unless we isolate individual networks from the bigger picture and create an organizational team approach to apply the findings. 

I was greatly inspired by Jason Boley’s blog about NodeXL on Cooldata and completely agree with Jason that the effect of the data visualization only became meaningful after the extraction and exploration of the desired vertices (NodeXL lingo meaning an individual or organization).  I haven’t seen any further exploration of the application of the tool yet in the Major Gift area although my instinct tells me that it could have a very useful application in Major Gift strategy.  Therefore, I set out to experiment with this goal in mind. 

Due to the limitation of the database we are using, I could not import edges (Node XL lingo meaning relationship between each contact). I was only able to build my own relationship database by documenting the edges manually in excel.   Most of the edges documented are board relationships found on the web and relationships we found in our own contact reports.  By documenting relationships for 23 individuals including major gift donor and campaign cabinet members, my NodeXL database recorded over 1000 edges and over 1500 vertices (individuals and organizations).  Some of the vertices in my newly built relationship database already exist in our constituent database but most of them are new.   I can already see the power of this amazing tool mainly in the following three applications:

Help visualize the hidden connections of our volunteers
We often present lists of potential prospects to our campaign volunteers hoping that they know some of them. With the visualization tool, we are able to see indirect connections between prospects and volunteers and present a more realistic list of prospect that our volunteer may know or may be able to contact through a third party.  In other words, I can already see potential connections that our campaign cabinet member might not even realize they have (i.e. Dave know Charlie, and Charlie knows Bob, Dave could have a connection with Bob or establish a connection through Charlie).

Identify potential connectors and influencers
If an individual appears in more than one network (each network we build revolves around one volunteer or major gift donor) or have a high Betweenness Centrality (The extent to which a node lies between other nodes in the network which is automatically calculated for you by NodeXL), it means that the person could be a potential connector.  This indication helps us to decide how to engage certain prospect or who to engage first so that the prospect can provide possible connections or exert influence. 

Identify and help qualify new prospect
You know how Linkedin keep telling you on your profile that “you have 88 connections hence you are connected to 2000 professionals”.  This is happening with my simple database as well.  People we never heard of or just starting to qualify are popping up in the relationship database and we can see how that person can be related to the institution.  When I am about to do a qualification of a new prospect, I would check first if this person exists in the relationship database or not.  If he or she does exist, I can use the “select subgraph” function to extract 2nd or 3rd degree connections of that person as well as the metrics calculation on the person’s Betweeness and Degree Centralities. This essentially means that you can do a fully visualized simple relationship map for a new prospect with just a few clicks.  Relationship map usually takes up a lot of researcher’s time hence we only do it at certain stage of the fundraising cycle.  With data visualization, we are able to extract relationship map right from the beginning with no time at all which is quite significant.

We are now at the stage of figuring out how to share this information most effectively. The leaderships of our Major Gift and Advancement team are more than excited about this new tool and are willing to include the tool in further strategic discussions which means that it could be used regularly by Major Gift officers in tactical meetings as well as for campaign cabinet meetings etc.

As an advocate of communication, I believe the tool won’t be useful without implementation and proper process.  What are the steps that lead to documenting a relationship and how best to use the data visualization in a process that generate action and result will be our next task and a future topic.

Useful blog to read to help you understand NodeXL:


  1. Thanks for the mention, Melody. I was here not because of that but because I'm very interested in relationship mapping for exactly the applications you describe. The whole thing is a bit of a brain-teaser, I (and others) have found. It seems to be a tool with great potential, but even if you have the data, there doesn't seem to be any software that makes it easy to do. The software vendor that manages to pull together the data and clear visualization with ease of use, and at the right price, will be rewarded handsomely in the marketplace. In the meantime, NodeXL is very useful (and cool). Looking forward to reading more about your explorations with it.

  2. Hello Melody. It's good to see a familiar name in the Canada Prspct forum. I am amazed at the work you have done, and I wish I could understand it better. I'll have to go back to NodeXL and be more patient.
    Thank-you for sharing what you have done and the results you are experiencing!