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 In Data Analysis Concepts Simplified, Data Storytelling

Does your nonprofit need to be data-friendly? Yes, it really does. You may think data is deadly dull, but collecting meaningful data is an essential part of being an effective nonprofit.

In 1869, climatologist Cyrus Thomas surveyed the Rocky Mountain region of Colorado, from the top of the Cache la Poudre river basin down to New Mexico. Everywhere he went, he saw swollen rivers, dry beds turned to flood zones, and bountiful harvests growing beside full streams. The evidence of rainfall exceeded anything witnessed since Europeans began colonizing North America.

From this data, Thomas drew what, at the time, seemed like a reasonable conclusion.

That as the population increases, the amount of moisture will increase.

Today, we view that conclusion as laughable. But back then, the conviction that “rain follows the plow” drove a massive settlement in Colorado. (Followed by great suffering when drought hit the region a decade later.)

The suffering in Colorado in the late 1800s may not seem relevant to us now, but it’s a great example of why your nonprofit needs to be data-friendly. Think of how your organization operates. Perhaps you experience a similar ebb and flow. You go through cycles of donations, outcomes, and engagement — with periods of flood and drought you can’t seem to predict or control.

But that doesn’t have to be the case. What if you had data that let you make the best decisions for your nonprofit, now and in the future? Let’s look at some of the reasons your nonprofit needs to be data-friendly to make the best use of flood times and forecast (and prepare for) times of drought.


Eliminate Faulty Assumptions

As humans, we have a very bad habit of clinging to beliefs that are often based on incomplete information. Cyrus Thomas is just one example of a very long line of incorrect ideas. The sun revolves around the earth. Eating bread crusts gives you chest hair. You get the idea.

Your nonprofit needs to be data-friendly to eliminate faulty assumptions you may have about your donors. These mistaken beliefs can have a big impact on your bottom line. For example, maybe you think you don’t need to try to engage with baby boomers on social media because they’re not online much. Superficially, this reasoning seems logical. But in fact, it’s never held up in marketing research. You could be losing out on donations because you don’t have the data to make sure what you think is happening is actually true.


Highlight Your Impact

Do you have an elevator pitch? Is it specific, or do you tend to rely on summary when trying to explain what your mission is? Vague statements about “helping,” “improving,” or “enhancing” don’t look like much on their own. Your nonprofit needs to be data-friendly so you can shape your message and demonstrate the impact of what you do. Compare these two sentences:

“Last year, we helped farm families improve their incomes.”


“Last year, we improved household income by 20% for 21,000 farm households, which means your contribution had an impact on 84,000 people.”

This kind of journalistic specificity will inspire potential donors and give those who have already contributed a meaningful understanding of their impact.


Justify Your Time

As a nonprofit, you are probably working with limited resources. Even if you’re relatively well-funded, you’ll want to make sure you’re maximizing the impact each dollar you receive has. Data can be incredibly valuable when determining how to deploy human resources.

Britepaths (formerly Our Daily Bread), a small agency in Fairfax, Virginia, had limited staff and few resources. They budgeted between five and ten hours each week for social media. But rather than just posting photos and counting likes, they spent some time connecting the “data dots” on their social media activity. They measured engagement through other data points:

  • Who donated
  • Where donors learned about them
  • What donors connection to them was

Staff used this information to cultivate donors and increase engagement. Your nonprofit needs to be data-friendly to understand how each touch point contributes to your mission, so you can allocate resources accordingly.


Make Smarter Decisions

What works for one nonprofit won’t necessarily work for you. Your nonprofit needs to be data-friendly to ensure you can make informed business decisions.

Let’s say a web developer is pitching a very expensive donation page to your organization. They promise it will increase conversions with an optimized design. They point to another nonprofit they’ve worked with that saw a big boost in donations.

But what if your analytics show you only have a slow trickle of traffic to your donation page? Paying for an upgraded design would essentially be money down the drain unless you invest in a strategy that will increase page visitors. Data-informed nonprofits know which tactics are truly worthy of their hard-won dollars.


Engage Your Audience

Not everyone in your audience will respond to your message in the same way. And you could be missing potential donors by not presenting information in a medium that will engage them.

Data can be beautiful. Move beyond reports and static spreadsheets to create striking graphics, interactive maps, and images that will spark the imagination. The human brain is brilliant at processing visuals — and it loves instant data viz. Studies have found the brain can extract information after just 13 milliseconds of exposure to visuals.

Your nonprofit needs to be data-friendly to leverage this shortcut into the minds of your audience. Collect your data and create infographics to give a visual and intellectual punch to the grey matter.


Promote Your Organization

Read any article even remotely related to nonprofits these days and you’ll run into Charity: Water. In 2014, founder Scott Harrison wrote an article for Markets for Good describing his team’s affinity for data.

“In late 2006, we started charity: water with a goal of directly helping 100 million people get access to clean and safe drinking water by 2022. We knew we would never be able to deliver on this promise without data.”


Charity:Water’s data expertise has catapulted the organization into the limelight. Not only did they become a go-to resource when it comes to sanitary drinking water but other organizations also seek out their input on inbound marketing, digital strategy, and tech. When your nonprofit is data-friendly, you can provide reliable, evidence-based information, making yourself a sought-after public resource and boosting public awareness of your cause.


Your Nonprofit Needs to Be Data-Friendly

The study of climate has come a long way since Cyrus Thomas. We still don’t know everything about the weather, but what we do know today lets us plan a great deal more than they could 150 years ago.

Your nonprofit needs to be data-friendly to avoid the issues that befell Thomas and the Colorado settlers. Data provides you with insights that let you make solid, strategic long-term decisions. Want help adopting a more data-friendly strategy? Talk to the experts at Datassist today.


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