2 Ways You Can Become a Data-driven Nonprofit in 2019

Transitioning your organization into one that is fueled by numbers, metrics, and data-driven decisions is not impossible. Yes, organizations with larger endowments may have been able to bypass some of the challenges you face (budget, staff, etc.), but we can use their successes as a roadmap for implementing data-driven practices at the small or mid-size scale.

And, just like that, it has come and gone — wasn’t 2018 fun? With a new year among us, the dates on our calendars have changed but many other things have stayed the same, specifically the challenges we face day in and day out.

If your organization is anything like the hundreds I’ve partnered with over the years, it’s likely that you:

  • Don’t have enough time in the day to get things done;
  • Don’t have enough staff to get things done;
  • And, don’t have enough budget to invest in resources to help get things done.

Ah, yes, 2019 is here, but so are all the same challenges we’ve faced since the beginning of time. A new year can be refreshing, but let’s be real, we still have myriad obstacles in our way if we want to effectively fundraise and further our organization’s mission.

With that being said, there is a burgeoning shift in thinking that could benefit your organization; becoming a data-driven nonprofit. With enough buzz words any idea sounds worthwhile, and “data-driven” fits that bill. Yet, there is some substance behind the buzz, however the challenge comes in trying to tap into it.

Yet, not all hope is lost. Transitioning your organization into one that is fueled by numbers, metrics, and data-driven decisions is not impossible. Yes, organizations with larger endowments may have been able to bypass some of the challenges you face (budget, staff, etc.), but we can use their successes as a roadmap for implementing data-driven practices at the small or mid-size scale.

Today I want to present to you two tactics you can introduce at your organization to move the needle in the data-driven direction. And, if you’re curious why you should even want to become a data-driven organization, consider reading any of these posts:

Let’s dive in!

Define what data-driven means to you

It certainly isn’t flashy or “sexy,” but the first step you can take in 2019 to become a data-driven organization is to define what data-driven means. I wish we could bypass this, but we can’t.

I’ve written extensively in the past about what being data-driven means (see the three articles linked above), but this exercise requires you to take into consideration the current status of your organization. Data-driven at Harvard might mean “we only use bayesian models when determining donor segments,” versus “donor lifetime value went up $25 last month” at your shop.

To get buy-in on leveraging data, you need to first define what “leveraging data” truly means in your office. Then, once you have a vision in mind, you can begin to convey and share that with others.

As I’ve written about in the past, “Data-driven culture is best executed when everyone is on board — from the c-suite to an entry-level position. If your colleagues were to receive a mandate to “collect more data,” you may fool yourself into thinking you have a data-driven culture, when in actuality you have a handful of staff frustrated and upset that they have to add more numbers to an excel spreadsheet.”

Step number one on your 2019 data-driven quest should be to take the abstract thought of “becoming data-driven,” and write it down. Use this blog post as the impetus to do it, and review other worthwhile articles to help frame your mindset.

Discuss best practices with your team and peers

When it comes to selling others on a new idea or way of doing things, you’ll need to get buy-in. Buy-in can be elusive, especially when everyone is so busy, stressed with putting out “fires,” and focusing on programs, donor relations, etc.

Don’t let these hurdles stop you on your quest to leverage data more effectively. When it comes to sales like these (selling your colleagues on a new approach), you need to help educate them on why it is worthwhile in the first place. Before you can convince anyone to care donor lifetime value, you’ll first need to convey to them the importance of measuring it. Essentially, you need to put yourself in your colleagues shoes and ask, “How does this help me?” Yeah.. no one said selling was easy!

You’re in luck though, because there are some roadmaps you can follow when it comes to conveying this information. For example, in this blog post on developing data-driven culture, you can see that the positioning of going data-driven is to help the team perform more effectively. Or, in Steve MacLaughlin’s book, Data Driven Nonprofits you can read anecdotes from a variety of organizations that “sold” their teams on utilizing data more effectively. And, I’ve even written an e-book on how to leverage data most effectively. Each of these best practices should be used to help sell your team on the data-driven vision.

Ultimately it comes down to a few key points… Leveraging data allows you to:

  • Keep up with peer organizations that are getting the most out of their data;
  • Advance your career in a new direction;
  • Overcome complex challenges and expand your skill set;
  • And, most importantly, impress your leadership, board, colleagues, with improved results, outcomes, etc.

Like I said before, selling isn’t easy, but, it’s pretty simple. Answer the “what’s in it for me?” question and you’re well on your way to developing a sales pitch sure to resonate with your team.

Applying this at your shop

So what does all this mean for you today? You’ve got a complex challenge at your fingertips, but the potential to drastically benefit your organization for years to come.

Becoming data-driven doesn’t happen overnight. No way. However, these two initial tactics; defining what data-driven looks like at your shop; and educating your team on best practices, will help.

Use these two tips to start the discussion in 2019, and keep in touch with our team to let us know how it goes. You can always click on the chat in the bottom right to get a hold of us. We’re here and happy to help however we can!

Author: Zach Shefska

I oversee the Fundraising Report Card, a division of MarketSmart. The Report Card is a free tool that empowers fundraisers to make data-driven fundraising decisions. It’s pretty neat.

Leave a Reply