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5 Ways to Simplify Nonprofit Data Management

By June 15, 2018

By: Sima Thakkar, TechSoup, Online Learning Producer

Data can be confusing, but it doesn’t have to be. There are massive amounts of data being created and shared today, yet most organizations don’t know what data they should be collecting or what they should be doing with it.

To offer some additional context, more data was produced in the two years prior to 2015 than in the entire history of the human race. Whether constituents are engaging through social media, website visits, or by donating, aggregating and analyzing each of these data points is a quantitative approach that can be used to better understand your donors, volunteers, constituents, and more.

Here are a few simple ways you can start becoming a more data-driven nonprofit.

Step 1: Start where you are

Start with the data you have in order to become more data-driven. Perhaps there are some things your organization is already doing to collect data. Chances are you have a checkout form that includes donor name, email, job title, company name, and address. Maybe you have a Facebook page that offers insights into where your followers live, their job titles, and perhaps affinity for certain brands or other organizations.

The first step in becoming more data-driven is to understand what data you are already collecting and what data you should be collecting. Make a list of all the data points you are currently have access to and how your organization might be able to use this information. Some of these data points can include donor or grantee profiles, giving histories, surveys, project or grant reports, interviews, input from focus groups, annual reports, email data, and so on. Understanding what you’ll be using data for is the first step — you want to avoid collecting data that won’t be used.

Becoming a data-driven nonprofit is a team effort

Step 2: Understand how to use data for fundraising, volunteer recruitment, and programs

Think about which metrics matter most to your organization. Are you more concerned about dollars raised, or the cost per dollar raised? Do you know where most of your donations are coming from? Do you understand how many of your volunteers are also donors? You ultimately want to understand whether the data you currently have access to could help you better market, better understand, or better serve your constituents.

For example, let’s say you’re trying to acquire new donors using Facebook. You noticed from your existing campaigns that donors from Indianapolis who are between the ages of 35-44 and work in technology convert the highest. Based on this information, you can create look-alike campaigns to create ads on Facebook targeting donors from Indianapolis who are 35-44 and work in technology; then see if they convert better than previous, more general, Facebook ads that you might have run. For example, Mercy Corps experienced a 2.2x increase in ROI in Facebook ads after Hurricane Maria simply by using existing donor information and then running lookalike campaigns, resulting in 850 new donors and $124,000 in donation immediately after the hurricane.

These are just some of the many ways that data can be used to optimize fundraising campaigns, volunteer recruitment, and so much more. Make a list of your organization’s current goals for the year and see what data might help optimize your outcomes. You can also ask your board members for advice.

Consider compliance in your nonprofit data strategy

Step 3: Follow the rules where you operate

Make sure that what you’re doing with your data is legal. If you haven’t heard about GDPR, you may want to talk to a lawyer soon. If you process personal data related to your organization’s establishment within the European Union (E.U.), from or about persons within the E.U., or outside of the E.U. but where E.U. law applies, you may be subject to the GDPR.

At its core, the GDPR boils down to three key pillars:

  • Security: Keep data safe and secure, and prevent unauthorized access or processing.
  • Accountability: Require companies to be accountable and transparent in how they collect, process, and protect personal data.
  • Individual Rights: Put control back into the hands of the individual to determine how their data is collected and used, such that companies are expected to process personal data on the individual’s terms.

TechSoup discusses GDPR and has some useful GDPR info as well. Ask a legal professional to determine whether your organization falls under GDPR requirements.

Creating a nonprofit data strategy is a team effort

Step 4: Create a long-term strategy and identify resources

64% of nonprofits reported increased demand for transparency from donors (Source: Nonprofit Trends survey, Salesforce Research, March 2018). If you want to be able to show your impact, you need to have your data in one place, so you can help tell your story from dollars to programs to impact.

Even if you’re a small resource-strapped nonprofit, there are several tools out there that can help you collect and visualize data to improve your impact reporting and more, which can remove some of the manual burden of data collection. Disparate data sources can also can blur the picture, so it’s important to identify resources to help streamline the incoming sources of data. For more on this, check out the Trailhead Module on Salesforce basics for nonprofits, especially how to build a data model and translate your data to Salesforce.

Nonprofit data strategy should drive your decisions day to day.

Step 5: Incorporate learnings into your day to day work

Once you know your goals, you know what data you have, and you’ve developed a data model, you’re well on your way to using data to drive decisions. When you have all your data in one place, you can start to create a seamless experience for your team and your constituents.

Data can be particularly valuable when it comes to marketing, fundraising and program management. One organization that has repeatedly leveraged data to more succinctly improve their mission in these three areas is the YMCA. The YMCA of Chicago actively collects and monitors operational and enrollment data to measure impact instead of blindly reporting on the effectiveness of their programs. They can also compare this alongside the population within their specific region and see if they are addressing the needs of that specific community or targeting the right people.

Resources to Help You Get Started

TechSoup provides help for nonprofits to get free software and hardware: explore FAQs on that, or you can start by checking your eligibility.

Tens of thousands of nonprofits use Salesforce to manage their CRM data, save time, raise more funds, and much more. Learn about doing good with data in human services, marketing automation for nonprofits, or check out Einstein Analytics for nonprofit reporting.

About the Author
Sima ThakkarSima Thakkar is the Online Learning Producer at TechSoup where she provides free educational content to nonprofits and libraries. She has several years of digital marketing experience and has helped both small and large organizations leverage blogging, webinars, and email marketing to form a cohesive voice and create awareness to help nonprofits further their mission.