Podcast: GIS and Fundraising, an Interview with Kristen Kurland

The newest installment of the AMT-Lab podcast series is a conversation between contributor Jana Fredricks and Kristen Kurland of Carnegie Mellon University. They discuss the use of geographic information systems in fundraising for arts organizations.  

Intro Music

 Intro: Hello AMT-Lab listeners. This is Ashley Anderson Kowach, Chief Technology Manager of the Arts Management and Technology Laboratory. On today’s installment of the AMT-Lab podcast, contributor Jana Fredricks is speaking with Kristen Kurland of Carnegie Mellon University. They’re discussing geographic information systems and the use of GIS in nonprofit fundraising. Enjoy!

 Jana Fredricks: Today we have with us Kristen Kurland who is a teaching professor of Architecture, Information Systems, and Public Policy at Carnegie Mellon University. She is the past president of CMU’s Andrew Carnegie Society and a former trustee. Her research focuses on interdisciplinary collaborations in health, the built environment, and spatial analysis using Geographic Information Systems, or GIS. She is also the co-author of a series of best-selling GIS workbooks for the world’s leading GIS software developer, Esri. Thank you so much for being here with us today.

 Kristen Kurland: Great, thanks for having me.

 JF: So, today, rather than focusing on the ‘how’ of geographic analysis in this interview I would like to explore the ‘why’. Why would an arts organization use GIS? Specifically, I’m interested in the purposes of fundraising. Over the last couple of months, I’ve had a chance to write for AMT-Lab about geographic information systems and geographic analysis. This kind of analysis can be used to place data in a ‘where’ context. And what I mean by a ‘where’ context is that GIS can help an organization explore where a person or thing was, where they are, or where they will be in the future. And as many of our readers and listeners know, the outputs of GIS analysis are map based and provide a unique way to visualize data. So, we kind of want to begin understanding how arts organizations can adapt these tools for their uses in fundraising.

 So, before diving in, can you tell us a little bit about you? How long have you been working with GIS and what is it that you like about it?

 KK: Sure. So, I was first exposed to GIS probably in the late 1980s/early 1990s and the world of GIS was much different back then. So, if you thought about the data that we had, we would actually have to build our own GIS maps. And GIS at the time, the roots were, here in Pittsburgh, were with City Planning and Public Works and really building an infrastructure. So, that’s how I got started with GIS, but then my research kind of went down two different paths. One was looking at health and the built environment. And so, I very quickly got involved with looking at, taking medical record data, and I’ve done a lot of projects particularly with Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh, and mapping that data and then looking at how the built environment affects health. So, we would look at things like childhood obesity and we would look at access the kids might have to parks or fast food. What I like about GIS is that it’s not just a visualization of the data, but it’s an analysis of the data with multiple levels of data, or multiple layers of data. And so, if you take a project like that with health you could say ‘ok, where are kids from a clinic’; we had an obesity clinic and we had their addresses. We could map where they live, that would be one layer of information. Another layer would be the parks. And then from there you use GIS as a tool for decision making. How far are those kids from a park? What are the amenities when the kids get to the park? And so, I think when you talk about GIS, there’s many ways to use it from the very basic as to just looking at a map, to decision making and analysis with some pretty advanced features with spatial statistics.

 JF: I think you bring a really good point about the use of GIS for decision making and when we think about using GIS in arts organizations, decision making is really, is the goal. Where can we target our efforts for marketing or annual fund campaigns?

 KK: Right.

 JF: You have extensive experience with GIS and a bit in fundraising. What are some ‘where’ context fundraising questions that GIS is uniquely positioned to answer or visualize?

 KK: Right. So, I think that I can give you some examples from my days as President of the Andrew Carnegie Society. I think that might be the best way to talk about this. So, when I became president, one of the things that I was overseeing was where do we concentrate efforts for fundraising for Carnegie Mellon University. And in particular the Andrew Carnegie Society was looking at donors at the $1,000 level, so that’s how you become a member of ACS. And then from there, gradually looking at the different levels. So, obviously one place to look for donors are alumni of the University. So, we would look at where would we hold events to gather alumni, to interact with the alumni. But then also, we would have program officers that would go into different cities, and what cities do we have them go into? And we had data and we would look at that data in spreadsheets, but one of the things that I suggested that we start doing was look at it using GIS. And so, we have the data, nobody really was mapping it at the time, so we would map the data of where the alumni were and we would look at it by different colleges and different programs. So, we might say ok where all the Arts Management students that have graduated and where are they living? Or, where are all the engineers living? And we could map that by geographic location using their addresses, and then we could start to look at other demographics in those areas. So, we would say ok maybe we have, I’ll use Washington D.C. as an example, it’s not only Washington D.C. but maybe all the suburbs of Washington D.C. So, maybe many of them are located in a certain area that’s right outside of D.C. So, instead of having the alumni event in D.C. we might have it in that area where they’re clustered. And so, we could take a combination of let’s say the alumni data with income, or other types of data that you might get from the Census Bureau to start to say ok, ‘let’s more strategically look at where we’re having our events and doing fundraising’. So, I think that the combination of, you know, I go back to the donors or the alumni. We also map donors. We said where do we have these $1,000 level donors? Where are they coming from and again looking at things like income. So, I think that, you know it’s really important to start to look at just not in a spreadsheet but where are they in surrounding areas that you can only get by mapping with GIS.

 JF: I think that’s really interesting and I think arts organizaitons, the constituencies of arts organizations tend to be very local and so often as arts organizations we say, “how can we get people into our doors”, “how can we get them to us”. And what I hear you saying is GIS is also a really great way to know how to go to them, to see where they are so you can really strategically target your outreach efforts.

 KK: Yeah and it’s interesting, I didn’t mention this, but back in my early days I actually did some projects for some arts organizations. So, the Three Rivers Arts Festival and at the time, if you think about something like that, it might just be people that are walking into that event. It’s not necessarily that they might have a donor list. So, we would do surveys and ask people “what zip code are you coming from?” so we would know where people were coming from. So, there’s a lot of ways to get that data. Of course, if you are an arts organization that happens to have a donor list, that’s ideally the way you would start to target people. But there’s a lot of innovative, creative ways. But especially, I think, too, I haven’t done much of this myself, but using social media data can start to tell you some interesting insights as to what people are interested in.

 JF: Interesting. So, you kind of talked about your projects at CMU, I know that you’ve also worked on a couple of other projects that aim to bolster fundraising efforts or grant disbursement efforts. Could you talk a little about those projects?

 KK: Sure! So, I’ve stepped down as President of the Andrew Carnegie Society and I’ve stepped down as trustee and so one of the organizations that I’ve been working with recently is the McCune Foundation. And the McCune Foundation is actually a sun setting grant organization, so Charles McCune said that this foundation is going to be sunset in 50 years and we have bout eleven more years left. And so, one of the things that we wanted to look at with the McCune Foundation was to start to look at the money that they’ve given in different clusters and what is the impact of those clusters, mostly in the Western Pennsylvania region. A cluster might be a health cluster or an arts cluster. So, we would look at how much money was given to different arts organizations in the area and then what impact did those organizations have in the community? And so, we as grantees, or grantors would look at where did those grants go, the grantees give us some information about it. And it’s really interesting to see where are they clustered? Obviously, you’ll have the Cultural District where you’ll have some of them but you might have some that are in different parts of Western Pennsylvania. How do they interact with each other? And so, again, how do we see the lasting impact I think is one of the things that we’re looking at from that Foundation standpoint.

 JF: Impact is something that we talk about all the time in the arts and it’s intrinsic usually. It’s kind of difficult to track and measure. But thinking about GIS as a unique way of visualizing that geographically, how did you measure the impact of the arts organizations? Was that, kind of, to do with their reporting back to the Foundation?

 KK: Yeah, they’re reporting back, and one of the things we’re trying to do is have them look at innovative ways to say how they might work with each other. Because if you think about the arts culture, you know, we want everyone to thrive, but it’s competitive. The question is how do we work together, what are the unique characteristics of the different kinds of arts organizations and frankly, who can they reach? You’re going to have a different audience for different types of art, different types of performances. What can be sustainable in the city too? You probably know more about this than I do, but different cities will have different levels of sustainability for the number of arts organizations they might have.

 JF: Absolutely

 KK: And, how do you look at that based on, not only maybe what might be the age range of the people that are coming to these different art venues, or it might be the characteristics of their income or…and that’s where you can start to get into other ways to define who the donor might be. Because you might not necessarily know the demographics of the individual donors, but if you know where they come from and you know the general, using census data, average median income or the educational attainment, you can really start to understand more about your donors, by overlaying, again, those multiple layers of information.

 JF: Right, and this is kind of leading into my last questions. So, when arts organizations use geographic analysis for fundraising, they often begin with the address level data of their patrons and donors. This may include street names and numbers, zip codes, cities, and states. This is a solid start, but often data from other sources is required in order to make the most of that address level data that they’ve been gathering on their patrons. Today we’ve kind of already touched on some of these like educational attainment and income level which are available from the Census, are there other attributes that you’ve used in your experience?

 KK: Yeah and I would say too the other thing that’s interesting to look at is aggregation of the data. So, you mentioned street addresses and I ran across this all the time with my health data. I don’t know how useful it is to necessarily say that that individual donor is at that street, but you can then start to see are there clusters of patrons or donors or whatnot, and that’s another thing that GIS can do very easily. You can say, ‘ok, I have everything mapped out by their actual street addresses’ and then you can aggregate to neighborhoods and that might tell you much more. What neighborhoods are those patrons coming from, or the donors coming from? And you could take that other information then and have the characteristics of those neighborhoods. And so, I think that, obviously we talked about Census data and things of that sort, but businesses…and what businesses are in those areas. So, I think that using GIS, there’s just so much you can start to look at. And also, there’s some unique techniques by creating these things called “hot spot” analysis. So, maybe that doesn’t aggregate up to one neighborhood, maybe that spans. Look at a city like Pittsburgh. You don’t want to bucket it, or boundary it too much into a neighborhood because that neighborhood might vary greatly. You might have somebody coming from the East End of Pittsburgh and Shadyside and Garfield and these different neighborhoods that are right around each other might be very different demographically, but that’s not to say that your patrons can’t cross over those areas. So, this is where, again, GIS is a really unique tool to say, ‘here’s where we have clustering of people’, and using the technologies that GIS can offer to look at ways to, again, identify without setting in to a bucket or a boundary.

 JF: Yeah, I think it’s really a reframe for lots of arts organizations, because when you begin to think about things in a ‘where’ context then it opens all of these other doors and all of these other possibilities, like looking at what businesses are in an area, or even identifying potential collaborators or sponsors based on areas where your donors or attendees live. So, it seems like a real treasure trove of information but it’s just been…arts organizations have been a little bit slow on the uptake, I think.

 KK: Well, this is why I’m so excited that I have a few arts management students. Every semester, when I get an arts management student, I get so excited because I have always known the possibilities that GIS can do and have with arts organizations and to have students like you in the class, just is very exciting for me. And hopefully, I think that it’s critical. I think that arts organizations will critically have to look beyond just databases of information and start to visualize and understand, not only just within their own art organization, but how it fits into the whole of a region or a city. And so, I think that’s really important to just not have that narrow focus on ‘this is my art organization’ but how do we…how does the arts in general fit into a whole region. And you could go and start to look at how does that feed in from even high school or elementary school levels. What high schools have arts programs? And so, there’s so much more that can be fed into the sustainability of the arts by using a tool like GIS.

 JF: Absolutely. I mean we use economic impact very frequently as a kind of proxy for measuring the less tangible impacts that the arts have and I think even that is really interesting to look at in a geographic context.

 KK: And I think too, we didn’t talk…we talked about demographics like income, but age I think is a big one. What is the median age of the people where these…where they’re coming from? And obviously, when you look at fundraising, there’s so much competition for fundraising and so many types of organizations that I think that, again, this is a kind of a tool that will help arts organizations figure out, not only within the arts organizations, but what other funders that they’re competing with. And so, everybody has their, as individuals, who do they donate to for different reasons. And I think understanding that can be very valuable using a tool like GIS.

 JF: I think price is the most limiting factor for a lot of arts organizations. But, more and more frequently there are more easily accessible and affordable ways to use this kind of data.

 KK: Sure

 JF: I know I’ve talked a little bit about Tableau in my papers. ArcGIS we’ve talked about but it’s a little bit on the higher spectrum. Are there any free or low-cost options that you know of?

 KK: Yes, there’s a number of opportunities. Well, within the ArcGIS world that you just mentioned they’re recognizing this and there are free online ways to take spreadsheets of data and just map that data and start to look at it with a little bit of dabbling into advanced. But, you know, it depends on your software. I mean, within Salesforce there might be ways to geographically visualize the data. Or you mentioned Tableau. So, there’s a lot of these programs that are allowing you to do, I would call it GIS lite. There are free programs like Q-GIS and others where you can start to then get a little bit more advanced. So, there’s no reason…and they’re not all that complicated, so there’s no reason why an arts organization could not be getting into this, this world of GIS and visualization and mapping with geospatial data.

JF: Right. Well, thank you so much for talking with us.

 KK: Well thank you.