Data-Driven Nonprofits

I had the opportunity to attend a Blackbaud Summit on nonprofits last month and have interesting data and information to share with you.  First, the bad news: “Everything We Know about Fundraising is (Mostly) Wrong,” according to Steve MacLaughlin Blackbaud’s Vice President of Data Analytics and author of Data-Driven Nonprofits.


I loved Steve’s outlook and his knowledge of the history of fundraisers (because I have spent the majority of my career fundraising and am a bit of a fundraising nerd). Did you know that in 1905, the Washington, DC YMCA raised $80,000 in less than a month? Without Facebook, Twitter or email; and without a donor database! The great fundraising duo of Charles Sumner Ward and Lyman L. Pierce managed the campaign, with the help of a hired strategic marketing firm. They even had a campaign clock to show progress, similar to the fundraising thermometers many of us use.


Now, you’re likely wondering what the point is, how does this apply to us in 2018!? Well, as Steve shared with us, Ward and Pierce created a process for fundraising that we still use today. Pledge drives, major donors, annual funds, etc. Today we call it cause marketing!


There were a number of gems from Steve but what I really want to share with you is how you can take quick stock of your donors and some tools and insights on how you might be able to increase your organization’s giving programs.


First, think about the levels of your donors. You may have just one level right now: the donors who give through your year-end campaign each December, probably $1,000 or less. Your focus should be retention. Are you prospecting these donors? Have you looked at your list and thought about who might be able to give more? Have you thought about what you can give them? Consider identifying two to 10 donors who have the capacity to give. Create an individual plan for each one. Maybe take a donor out for coffee and share a recent success. Perhaps create a special email just for these 10 donors. Aim to move half of these donors to the next level over a 12-month period.


So what is the next level?


In the next phase, you have two levels – annual givers and sustainers, or major donors. This group might give between $1,000 and $10,000. The focus is on upgrading these donors to a new giving level. Think about establishing new levels and diversifying your giving channels. No longer do you just have a year-end campaign, you have focused on fundraising all year long. Now you have a way to give online. You’re asking in person. Perhaps you’re sending letters or handwritten notes about a new program or success.


Assess everyone on your donor list for greater capacity and identify 10 to 30 of these donors for some special treatment.


As you grow, you’ll develop mid-level giving and focus more on donor impact. You can begin to prospect more donors as you get more comfortable and you can begin a deeper level of internal data analysis.


Are you a one-man or one-woman shop? Then maybe two levels of giving are the max you can manage. So do that, but do the absolute best you can with those two levels.


As Steve shared, “Donors don’t get tired of giving. They get tired of giving to you!” That means you are constantly sharing new information with donors and reminding them they are part of your very worthwhile cause. Show them how they are a critical part of making good things happen for the individuals served by your organization.


Who are you competing against?

Of course you are competing against the other nonprofits in your community. But charitable contributions come from a household’s discretionary income, the same portion of a budget that goes toward Netflix, Amazon, Apple, dining out, going to the movies, travel, etc. Think about that when you’re sharing information with a donor. You need to stand out. That donor needs to think that your cause is as important as, if not more important, than all of the other activities that discretionary income can be spent on.


Diverse Giving Channels

How are you reaching your donors? How are you receiving donations? Have you analyzed this? Steve explained that the “channel of engagement is often different from the channel of transaction.” His point was that you want to continue sharing information with donors through a variety of mediums: mail, email, social media, events, etc. All donors may not reciprocate through the same channel. Sending letters through the mail at the end of the year or to promote specific giving days may yield donations through your website. Don’t give up on one channel of engagement just because a different channel is being used for transactions.


Recycling Content

Not a new concept but certainly one that I need to be reminded of. When North writes a blog for PAFCAF – let’s say a feature on one of our member agencies – they post it on our website, include it in our Insider newsletter and on our social media channels. But not all at the same time – we space it out so it gets more attention. Try it! To quote Blackbaud, “if it’s awesome, it’s shareable!” And you know you have awesome content!


And don’t be afraid to share new content daily on social media. For all the experts who recommend a certain number of posts a week, there is an equal number saying it’s really ok to post every day as long as it’s quality content that will motivate your audience to engage in some way.


Who’s Blogging for You?

Blackbaud suggests a calendar of who’s blogging. You can, and should, expand beyond your development or communications staff. Why not have your program director or direct care staff write a blog about what’s happening with your youth and families? The communications team can always review to ensure its brand consistent and appropriate for publication. Think about the different perspectives that can be shared by various staff. Donors appreciate and respond well to having the insider’s view.




BlackBaud Institute

On this website, you’ll find information on sustainer giving, generational giving, and an analytics toolkit. You will also find the 2017 Blackbaud Charitable Giving Report and Blackbaud’s Raise & Engage Podcast.


Keyword Searches: New tool for me! The idea is adding the right keywords in the right places on your website to help move your site up in search results. Do you know where your site shows up in a search result? Now’s a good time to try it out. Most visitors are clicking through to the first few search results. By strategically using keywords that apply to your organization, you can gain more traffic to your site. This does not mean pick five keywords and use them on every single page of your site. Be strategic.


Google Keyword Planner is one option but Blackbaud also suggested Yoast. There are many options that are free.


Google Analytics

How are people getting to your site? What page did they leave to come to your site? Do you know? Google Analytics are a must and it is free. Track key performance indicators for your website and look for small changes that you can make to increase traffic. North tracks our analytics and each quarter, we receive a report on a variety of stats. It’s important for us to know where people entered our site – was it trainings, the homepage, the membership page? And where did they leave? What’s the last item they saw on our website? That helps us curate our content in a more strategic way and know what communications methods are driving traffic.


If you want a little more advanced tool, Crazy Egg will show heat maps for your site! (30-day free trial)


The lesson to be learned here is that wealth and assets don’t tell the whole story about your donors. Having wealthy donors (or assuming that you have wealthy donors) does not equate to more giving or higher levels of giving or future giving. Data, however, fine-tune your efforts and streamline the work to cultivate and educate donors – and personalized work will increase your fundraising.


Have questions or need advice? I’m happy to help! Let’s schedule some time to talk.