By: Hilary Noon

Go Beyond the Data to Discover Insights that Transform Your Fundraising Program

Hilary Noon , Executive Vice President, Insight, Analytics, and Experience

Data and analytics have become a regular part of nonprofit fundraising. Many organizations have a team of analysts and database managers. Almost every agency provides “analytics” services.

But when it comes to using data to drive strategy, improving the donor experience, and ultimately increasing donor loyalty organizations often feel handcuffed. There are a few reasons for this...

  • Volume – Today’s organizations are collecting a lot of data. Making sense of it all can be overwhelming.
  • Quality – Much of the data nonprofits collect is either incomplete or messy.
  • Impact – It can be difficult to tie clear impact to the data—or even justify the effort you must go through to demonstrate impact.

As a result of these challenges, organizations end up “going with their gut” and maintaining a “business as usual” mentality. Essentially, they guess about the kind of experiences donors want and use data as more of a way to report campaign results rather than actually drive the strategy.  

So how can you start thinking differently about the way you approach data and analytics to translate insights into action and enhance the donor experience?

Driving Better Decision-making & Donor Experiences through Data

In working for and with nonprofits over the past 20 years, I’ve seen a lot of confusion around the goal and purpose of data. Collecting data is not the objective; using data to make better decisions and provide better experiences is where you should set your sights. Here are four steps we take at Pursuant to help organizations achieve that goal...  

  1. Always begin with the end in mind.

When adopting a data-driven approach, it’s important to have absolute clarity around the goal you’re trying to achieve. Honestly, data and metrics are meaningless if they’re not grounded in organizational goals.

Which donors, or area of your fundraising program, is the highest priority to focus on? Are you looking to improve retention of first-year donors? Determine which acquisition strategies are most effective for reaching key multi-year donors?

If you want data to become an indispensable asset for your fundraising program, it’s important to clearly articulate what business question you are trying to answer with analytics.  Prioritizing will allow you to go deep with one segment and improve the likelihood that you will create a relevant experience that will drive results. Generating a “small win” will help you earn trust and credibility throughout your entire organization.

  1. Discover new ways to unlock donor motivations & preferences through primary research and social insights.

In today’s world, you don’t have to “guess” about how to create deeper, more meaningful relationships with your donors. There are many mechanisms for doing this - including surveys, focus groups and social listening.  

We can look at database results all day long, but firsthand research is what really allows us to gather feedback from the donors themselves. What do they really care about? What makes them tick? What do they think about the experiences they have with your organization?

Social media monitoring or listening tool will give you insight into what people are saying about your organization.  Examples of data you can leverage include: What are people saying about your brand on social media? Where are people talking about your mission? How is the overall economic landscape impacting philanthropy?

These tools can give you an important view into the hearts and minds of your donors. The key is to use the information you capture to drive your strategies for improving the donor experience.   

  1. Be intentional about making your data & analytics efforts actionable.

None of the ideas above matter unless you can actually take action on the insights you learn. You never want the results of your data analysis to sit on the shelf. Making the insights from your data easy to understand and simple to implement is as important as the rigor and discipline you use to conduct the research.  

Being able to translate data into actionable insights for your team is just as important as the discipline and rigor you bring to data governance. This is why visualization tools—such as Tableau—are so valuable. They provide a visual representation of your data in a way that makes it easier to spot trends and help others see the impact of their decisions.

Being a data translator also means being able to tie your results and insights back to the original business question. If your work is well-received, ask the requestor to give you a testimonial so you can use that to get traction across other parts of your organization.

Analytics & Insights: From Impossible Obstacle to Indispensable Asset

Embracing the ideas above will help you begin to optimize your ability to connect with donors who are passionate about your cause. The insights you gather from data can enhance this effort in a hundred different ways—from how you develop your creative to the number of touches you make before asking for another gift to the way you invest in acquisition to reach new markets.

To turn your data into something truly valuable for your organization...

  • Start small – Don’t feel like you need to do it all right away. Your data doesn’t have to be “perfect”.  At Pursuant, we typically start with an initial snapshot to understand the health of your donor file. We use that to look for areas of improvement and opportunities for achieving your goal.
  • Prioritize – Before you set out, determine which aspect of your data-driven approach is the highest priority to focus on. Take a crawl, walk, run approach. Prioritizing will allow you to go deep and improve the likelihood that you will create a relevant experience that will drive results.
  • Persevere – Since data can be overwhelming, disorganized, and challenging to track, it can be easy to get stuck. Don’t be afraid to scale back the amount of data you’re working with or adjust your goals to keep things moving forward. Perseverance is vital.

By changing the way your nonprofit approaches data, you will create a new reality for your organization where you build stronger connections with donors and provide more exceptional experiences. The power to do this is right at your fingertips, and the possibilities it offers are truly limitless.

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