How to Use Data to Measure and Improve Programs

Have you read Idealware’s latest report, Nonprofit Performance Management: Using Data to Measure and Improve Programs, which discusses these 6 steps for strong data collection:

  1. Define a goal for your data – what will best demonstrate the value of your programs?
  2. Identify specific data elements to help you reach that goal
  3. Store data in a way that’s accessible (hint – use a web based system that can be easily shared)
  4. Establish a way to gather data (use required fields for the information that’s most important)
  5. Report and analyze what the data is telling you (many nonprofits fail to take this critical step)
  6. Take action based on what you’ve learned (if you’re not going to do this, then why collect data at all?)

Make sure you explain to staff why having good data is important.  It may be obvious to you but may not be to them.  Also, run regular (at least quarterly but monthly is better) reports to verify that data is being entered correctly (don’t wait until it’s time to do the annual report, when it’s too late to clean the data).

I encourage you to download Idealware’s report, which includes many examples of organizations that are doing this well.

If you do this well, maybe next year your organization will be one of the semifinalists for the Nonprofit Excellence Awards (I’m on the judging committee), all which understand the importance of good data collection practices.

Also see my post earlier this year, Do You Work For a Data Driven Nonprofit.  To again reinforce: If your organization does great work but you don’t have the data to prove it, you’re missing an opportunity to improve donor retention, attract new supporters and effectively measure your nonprofit’s impact on the communities you serve.

If you only collect good data when a grant requires you to do so, you’re missing the boat.

(Thanks also to Exponent Partners, who sponsored this report.)

Thoughts About ALS and the Ice Bucket Challenge

The fundraising phenomenon this summer has been the Ice Bucket Challenge, where supporters literally pour a pail of water over their head to raise awareness for the disease which killed Lou Gehrig and the ALS (Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis) Association.  The campaign has raised over $100 million (see chart below) in less than a month. What can other nonprofits learn about fundraising campaigns from this stunning success?

  • Video is a must  – this idea would never have taken off without being able to see those taking the challenge
  • Multi-channel isn’t just a buzzword – the ice bucket campaign accelerated because it was promoted on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Instagram – and prominently featured on the ALS website
  • Asking supporters to involve their friends and family is a lot more effective than the nonprofit contacting supporters directly
  • The Ice Bucket Challenge wasn’t started by ALS, but the organization embraced the campaign when it caught on.  Your nonprofit doesn’t always have to originate a successful campaign, but you have to be aware of what your supporters are doing, especially on social media
  • If you can make it ‘fun’ to support your cause, constituents will enjoy getting involved

Congratulations to ALS – perhaps this publicity will be the push it needs to find a cure for this debilitating disease. Also see comments by Allison Fine,  Gail PerryJohn Haydon,  Beth KanterKivi Leroux Miller,  Chronicle of Philanthropy,  Nonprofit Times and Social Media for Nonprofits on the Ice Bucket Challenge phenomenon.

Updated 8/29/14 – chart which shows running donation and new donor totals for ALS.

Updated 9/5/14 – Roundup from Wild Apricot.

What to Ask Your Next Software Vendor

When my organization implemented a new database a few years ago, we worked closely with the vendor to create screens that would be easy to use and would allow us to capture reliable data about those we serve.  Although there was the usual nervousness about moving to a new product, overall my colleagues were enthusiastic about being able to better demonstrate the impact of our work.

Earlier this year, however, I learned that staff were struggling with the new system and found the new setup difficult to use.   As a result, I met with everyone and we came up with a more streamlined structure, which would involve my consolidating several forms and changing some question types to faciliate reporting.  So I created some test screens with the revised layout, figuring I could eventually make them active after user testing and disable the old forms.

Unfortunately, this has turned out to be a much bigger challenge than I expected.  It seems that the vendor doesn’t have an easy way to activate the new forms without involving a tedious data migration from the old forms.  Unlike most databases I’ve used, the questions in each form live independently of each other, and there is no central data repository, at least none that I can easily access.  For reporting, the vendor suggested that I use their internal module (powerful but difficult to use) instead of the external platforms we normally use for data analysis.

As a result, the change process has taken a lot longer than expected, and my users continue to struggle with the older forms, many which they simply have stopped using.  So before you decide on your next software purchase, ask these questions first:

  1. Is there a test / sandbox environment where you can try out configuration changes before they go live?
  2. If so, is there an easy process to transfer these changes from the test site to the live site?
  3. Where does the data ‘live’ and is there a way, for example, to avoid a situation where a question happily co-exists with an identical question in other forms/screens?

Many small nonprofits don’t have the luxury of a dedicated IT team or a separate testing environment as my organization does.  But if you’re trusting your data with an outside vendor, take the time to find out how to make extensive screen/configuration changes (which you WILL need to do, no matter how great everything seems at launch).   It shouldn’t be a challenge to make your system more accommodating to how your users work.

Are Your Donation Forms Mobile Friendly?

(Guest post by Todd Turner)

Successful fundraising isn’t only about knowing your audience;  it’s also about providing tools that empower them to donate whenever and wherever they are compelled to support your cause.   Here are some tips to make your donation forms mobile friendly.

Do your forms load quickly? Mobile functionality involves more than allowing your online donation form to automatically adjust to a mobile device’s screen size or orientation, especially given the importance of a nonprofit’s ability to convert a user’s “real time” emotional response into a tangible donation. Load times for site and mobile forms should be less than five seconds — the maximum amount of time a majority of consumers report they’ll wait before abandoning an ecommerce website entirely.

Have you removed unnecessary fields? The more information you request on your mobile donation form, the more likely prospective donors will become frustrated and decide not to make a gift. Ideally, the mobile donation form itself should only include: name (with an option for one-step login with social media credentials) billing address, email (optional), phone (one contact number only, and optional) and payment choice/information. According to The NonProfit Times, the less information a person must complete, the higher the donor conversion rate.

Do you use strong calls to action?  The call to action language and type of payment security can increase the likelihood of mobile donation conversion. For example, replacing call-to-action button language with a phrase like “support [cause’s name]” in lieu of impersonal words like “submit” can increase dollars per page view.  Visible “cues” that ensure a secure payment transaction have also been shown to increase mobile donor conversion. Also, display “average” donation amounts with touch control features like “plus” or “minus” signs (instead of a drop-down menu) along with the option to type a dollar amount, to simplify the mobile donor’s checkout experience.

Have you confirmed the mobile experience for every point of entry? Does your mobile experience introduce unnecessary “steps within steps” based on the many ways donors could access your mobile donation form?  For example,  by clicking a link in an email you sent to them directly; from an email forwarded to a new supporter from an existing donor, or for visitors who come directly from your website. If you solicit a past donor through email, for example, the mobile donation form he/she is “served” should recognize him/her as a past donor and generate the relevantly stored data.  Allow  both new and returning donors to establish a login and/or sign-in — but don’t make it required. Similarly, ensure that users aren’t forced to repeat steps or go backward in the donation process, should they decide to create a login or research the average donor amounts of peers, before completing the checkout process.

Do you allow donors to use multile payment methods? Entering credit card information on a mobile device can be cumbersome. Though user rates behind mobile wallets and contactless payment tools aren’t yet widely adopted, retailer-specific wallet apps like that from Starbucks, and even virtual currency like Bitcoin are on the rise. Equipping your mobile donation form to accept these payments may require little more than inserting a bit of code (e.g. Google Wallet has a ready-made “donate” button specifically designed for nonprofits) can increase the convenience you offer donors — and likelihood you’ll convert them.

The rules of mobile consumer engagement and conversion apply as much for a nonprofit as they  do for ecommerce retailers. By ensuring that your mobile donation forms follow best practices used by ecommerce retailers, you’ll will provide donors with the mobile options that fit their lives, to build continued support for your cause.

Todd Turner is the President of LogoMagnet, a custom design magnet company that produces and distributes magnets for schools, nonprofits, sports teams and more.

Vote For Your Favorite #15NTC Sessions

This Friday, July 18 is the deadline for picking your favorite sessions / topics for next year’s Nonprofit Technology Conference in Austin, Texas on March 4-6, 2015.

To help you navigate the long list of submissions, below are some of my favorite ideas organized by topic, many which I’ve spoken and/or blogged about:

Giving Effective Online Presentations

Maintaining Better Nonprofit Data

Multichannel / Integrated Communications & Fundraising

Mobile / Responsive Strategies

Project Management / Agile 


Website Design

Working with Vendors / Consultants

User Adoption – What to Do AFTER the Launch

If that’s not enough to whet your interest, below are some other sessions worth voting for:

As you’ll notice, there are many sessions with similar topics that will probably be combined.  Pick your favorite submissions and make next year’s Nonprofit Technology Conference most relevant to your needs.

When Are People Most Likely to Donate?

(Guest post by Kristen Gramigna)

Knowing your audience well enough to communicate when they will most likely respond to your call to action is a basic tenet of marketing. But putting that theory into practice presents additional complexity for nonprofits,  particularly when asking constituents to commit money to an intangible cause.  Properly timing when you solicit donations can improve the success of your fundraising campaign.

Below are findings about donor behavior that can help gauge when your supporters are most likely to donate.

  • When they’re in good company: Regardless of the generosity donors may want to show your nonprofit, research indicates they’re more likely to give when they can form social connections, e.g. through a silent auction, black tie event or a fundraising effort held in a group setting where they are surrounded by like-minded people. “The emotional rewards associated with giving to friends or acquaintances are greatest in situations that facilitate social connection,” from  Does Social Connection Turn Good Deeds into Good Feelings?
  • When they feel familiar with the cause:  Donors and prospects may not know a person directly impacted by their gift, but creating a sense of familiarity between recipient, donor, and your cause can enhance how happy donors feel after giving. Theoretically, they’re more likely to give again when they feel good about doing so. Just as ongoing interaction helps strangers become acquaintances, your nonprofit’s ability to leverage online fundraising tools that use integrated processing for recurring donation and interaction can enhance the sense of familiarity donors feel with your cause. Offering a one-time sign up and an easily accessible donor database that automatically fills in form fields, will make it easier for donors to make consistent, recurring donations, and to feel “recognized” as a continued supporter — even if they donate less frequently.
  • When they’re emotionally impacted:  Online donation forms that allow donors to give instantly via credit/debit card enhance your ability to be available for donors when they feel compelled to support your cause.  Online donation forms should display well on various screen sizes and orientations, so a donor can easily input their payment information (or retrieve their account from a past donation) from anywhere, at any time.
  • When they can boost their image with others: Being charitable can speak positively to a person’s image and boost how others perceive them. By giving donors the option to share the news of their donation on social media tools like Facebook and Twitter, they can reap the emotional payoff of donating without seeming like they’re trying to “brag” about their donation. (Make sure that you also give the donors the ability to conceal the amount they donated, or, not to share at all.)  Social proof can also help you build your reach and potential donor base further, by way of your donors’ social networks
  • When they feel selfless: It seems logical that giving the donor a thank-you gift would increase their likelihood to give, but some research indicates otherwise. In  “The Counterintuitive Effects of Thank-You Gifts On Charitable Giving,” Yale researchers found that when presented with the idea of receiving a gift in exchange for a donation, donors felt selfish; in turn, they were less likely to donate as much money. To counter this problem, be mindful of how you present thank-you gifts to donors, and what you offer. For example, per Charities: Don’t Thank Your Donors with a Gift, combining the positive social payoffs that incentivize donations with a gift (like an invitation to an exclusive donors-only event) can eliminate the feeling of selfishness.

Timing is everything when it comes to finding donor support for your cause.   Putting these best practices into action in your fundraising efforts can help your messages reach your donors when they are most likely to respond positively.

Kristen Gramigna is Chief Marketing Officer for BluePay, offering non-profit credit card processing solutions. The brings more than 15 years of experience in the bankcard industry in direct sales, sales management, and marketing to the company and also serves on its Board of Directors.

How to Get the Most from a Webinar (and who to take them with)

Attending a webinar online is a great way to keep up your skills and connect with others in the nonprofit community.   To get the most value from an online event:

  1. As tempting as it may be, minimize multitasking.  If you can’t focus on the session you’re attending, find out if there will be a recording available (most do provide this) then listen at a time you can focus
  2. Ask questions.  (You’ll learn more that way.)  Many session presenters (including me) prefer an interactive format and welcome questions at any time, not only at the presentation’s end.
  3. Take notes – and share with your coworkers.  Writing things down will reinforce the ideas
  4. Share key ideas over social media channels (but be careful about focusing too much on this – see tip #1)
  5. Do your job first.  Make sure your webinar participation doesn’t interfere with getting your work done and be prepared to stop listening if an office situation requires your attention

Fortunately, there are many organizations / individuals offering great content in free or low-cost webinars.  For example:

But while webinars are great,  don’t forget about also going to live events where you can interact with our community in person.  And anytime you’re at an in-person meeting, please minimize use of your smart phone.  I’ve attended meetings where practically everyone is constantly on their phone – be where you are!

What Do YOU Want to Talk About at #15NTC?

15NTCWant to get the most out of next year’s Nonprofit Technology Conference (#15NTC)?  Submit an idea for a session – the deadline is Sun, Jun. 22.

I’ve presented several times in the past, and it’s always been a great experience.   By participating in a session, you:

  1. can highlight what you’ve accomplished at your nonprofit
  2. become more of an expert in your topic.   It really is true: The best way to learn something is to teach it to others
  3. form deeper relationships with others who are presenting with you (most conference sessions involve multiple speakers)
  4. learn more about a strategy you’re newly implementing at your organization
  5. enhance your skills as a public speaker, which can be especially helpful at your current job and in your career
  6. share your knowledge with others in the nonprofit community
  7. insure that the conference will be especially relevant to your current needs

You don’t have to present;  you can also propose an idea that you’d like others to talk about.   But either way, submit your proposal by June 22.  It will make your conference experience all the more rewarding.   (Then mark your calendar – we’ll be in Austin, Texas next year from March 4-6, 2015.)

How to Create a Long Term Stewardship Strategy

Leah Merrill(Guest post by Leah Merrill)

 Many nonprofits focus primarily on acquiring additional contributions, but it’s equally important to keep the donors you already have.   Having a plan for how you’re going to engage and thank donors, and to nurture them are crucial to keeping them connected to your organization.

Below are a few tips to implement a long-term stewardship strategy:

1. Have a written stewardship plan.

Once you formulate your plan, write it down. Here is an example you can use to help you come up with your own plan. This stewardship plan will be a guide for your organization to organize donations and take care of your donors.

The plan should go over how and when you should thank your donors, who should manage it, the ways you intend to manage your donor relationships, and how much money you would like to raise. Include in your plan your process for stewardship recognition (yearly donor lists, events, and awards).

2.  Make sure that you run reports.

Stay in touch with your donors to keep them informed and up to date (via e-mail updates, reports, meetings, newsletters, etc.) on how you’re using the money they give and the impact on your community.  A good membership management software system will take the hassle out of doing this often and in a timely manner.

3.  Appoint someone to manage the stewardship.

While everyone in your organization should be included in the stewardship plan and process, it’s helpful to put one person in charge of preparing and managing the stewardship plan.

When one person is in charge of managing, monitoring, double-checking, and coming up with new ideas, there is less room for error and things ‘falling through the cracks.’ When too many are involved, people may assume work was done by someone else, and tasks may get overlooked.

What other techniques have you used to encourage your supporters to stay connected with your organization over time?

(From Norman – Also see this insightful free ebook from Blackbaud, Show the Love: Thoughtful Engagement to Retain Donors.)

Leah Merrill is a Software Analyst for Capterra, where she specializes in helping membership administrators find membership management software. When she’s not helping associations and nonprofit organizations find the right software on the Capterra Membership Management Blog, you’ll find her reading, writing, and spending time with her family and friends. Follow Capterra on Twitter at @CapterraMemMgmt.

How to Kick Off a New Project

This week my organization continued work on the project mentioned in my last post, Is Your Nonprofit Prepared for an Agile Project  with a series of meetings with many of our users and the vendor/consultant.

Here’s why I think it went very well:

  1. We made sure all stakeholders had an opportunity to be at the table.  I encouraged everyone to participate, and adjusted our schedule for some who had very limited time availability.
  2. At my boss’s suggestion, we scheduled some meetings with multiple users/departments at the same time, allowing them to validate each other’s comments.
  3. Our vendor/consultant listened closely to our staff’s feedback and took copious notes.
  4. We spent a few hours developing a database model to best serve everyone’s needs (it’s much harder to change this later)
  5. I made sure our Executive Director had dedicated time to ask pointed questions about how the new system would be built.
  6. Even though this system won’t be built internally, both of our programmers were fully involved in all discussions so they can better support and enhance the system later.
  7. After the meetings, I thanked everyone for their participation – and reminded them that we would need their help throughout the process to ensure a successful result.

Time will tell if things work out, but I think we’re off to a great start.

Bridging Technology, Communications & Development for Nonprofit Organizations