Easy Ways to Start Using Data to Raise Money
We're sorry. Something went wrong.
We are unable to fully display the content of this page.
The most likely cause of this is a content blocker on your computer or network.
If you continue to experience issues, please contact us at 202-466-1032 or email@example.com
But they shouldn’t worry, experts say. Fundraising analytics runs the gamut from the cutting edge to the very simple. Every organization can start using data to improve fundraising. Experts suggest these strategies to get started:
Carve out time, even if you’re short on money. “Money helped buy velocity, buy speed, buy some sophistication, but it doesn’t prevent anybody — if they’ve got the time — from doing some really innovative work,” says Jon Thompson, an associate vice president at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. While his organization uses a combination of data from its system combined with commercial data to create the psychographic profiles of donors, he realizes that’s not a possibility for everyone — but every nonprofit can do cool things, given enough time.
“My first advice for any small shop would be for that leadership to help carve out 10 percent free time for their tech leaders,” Thompson says. “Let them have space to think and innovate and to push boundaries. I think you’d be surprised what comes back.”
Outsource some tasks. Small organizations have to realize that they have limited bandwidth, says Lori Stirling, senior vice president of advancement strategy at Affinaquest. “If you’re one person or a very small organization, you can’t be doing everything,” she says. “You’re going to go home exhausted, and you’re not going to be effective.”
Think about where your talents and interests lie, and then consider outsourcing other responsibilities. If you don’t have a database manager to go through the data and pull reports, perhaps outsource those tasks. If you love data and want time to work with it but have other tasks that need doing, outsource those.
LaShonda Williams, who works as a fundraiser in Texas and also teaches fundraising at National University, says she’s seen organizations that have volunteers do a variety of tasks, including mailing thank-you notes written by staff, leading facility tours, and creating event flyers. This frees up fundraisers to work on tasks they are best suited to.
Figure out how to pull data. Donor data is useful only if organizations can pull it out of their systems and work with it, says Kari Bodell, vice president of development programs and strategy at Susan G. Komen. Fundraisers need to learn how to extract the information they need.
“This is the advice I would give anyone, whether they are in a national role or they’re in a local role: Understand how to pull your reports,” Bodell says. “You don’t need sophisticated business intelligence systems. Now, they really help. They make a lot of things easier. But as long as you’re pulling your full data set and you understand how to navigate it, you can use the data. Being able to get the right data out of your system is really, really key.”
Learning how to pull reports may seem like just one more daunting task to throw on the pile, but Emily Marcason-Tolmie, director of prospect management, research, and analytics at Skidmore College, says it’s very doable. She recommends asking colleagues — even outside your department — who may have hidden data skills; taking online classes, such as those offered by LinkedIn Learning; and networking among other fundraisers and asking questions. “Lean into that broader community of fundraisers,” she says. “Find people that are doing work like yours in other shops. People are often very willing to talk.”
Use data to tailor appeals. Organizations can use data to send tailored emails to their donors and build relationships. It’s an opportunity for fundraisers to feel like they have the savvy of Netflix or Amazon, companies that know what customers are interested in and provide it to them, says Rodney Grabowski, senior vice president for advancement and partnerships at the University of Central Florida.
“We don’t have the ability to develop personal relationships one-on-one with everyone,” says Grabowski, who notes that at big universities, alumni populations grow by tens of thousands each school year. “But the data allows me ... to pay attention to what are their interests, what do they care about? Too often, we’re still just sending that generic message — this is what we want you to hear versus curating it to what you’ve told us you’re interested in.”
Group your donors. Segmenting donors is a simple way to use data to strengthen an organization’s connections with supporters and, in time, bring in more donations, says Williams. So a donor interested in cancer research would receive an invitation to the opening of a new cancer center on campus. “Once they come and visit your site for that new innovation, then you can follow up with subsequent material to invite them to invest in the advancement of the innovation project,” Williams says.
Sam Laprade, a consultant with Gryphon Fundraising, offers an even more accessible use of segmentation: “miss you” campaigns. These appeals target supporters who contributed in previous years but not the current one — easy information to find in donor databases.
One of her clients, a homeless shelter with a database of 80,000 donors, ran a miss-you campaign after realizing many people who contributed in 2017, 2018, and 2019 stopped giving in 2020 and 2021. After the shelter determined it hadn’t asked supporters to give as often as it should have during the pandemic, it mailed letters to roughly 7,000 lapsed donors, updating them on the work the group had accomplished since their last gift. The campaign had a 5 percent response rate and raised more than $53,000.
“They’re engaging with people and sharing back,” Laprade says. “It’s not like wagging your finger at them.”
The letters create an entry point to re-engage donors who are already familiar with the mission. Laprade says some groups feel comfortable asking recipients for a specific amount equal to or surpassing their last gift.
Listen to the data. Another early step Laprade recommends: Look at the database to see how recent, frequent, and big a donor’s gifts have been. Even that basic information can help nonprofits better understand their supporters.
“Let the donors talk to you through your data,” she says. “If you’ve got people that have been giving you three gifts in a year and you’ve never asked them to be a monthly donor, they’re literally standing on a mountain screaming at you, ‘I’d like to become a monthly donor! You need to ask me.’”