Nonprofit Experts Weigh In: Their Best Data Tips

These tips originally appeared in our Nonprofit Hub Magazine, a bi-monthly publication delivered to your mailbox. Sign up to receive the magazine complete with top nonprofit advice and tips here.


We’re bringing you the best nonprofit data tips from the people who advise or work in the nonprofit trenches every day. See what their best tips are to get started or master your data collection and management.

Assume Nothing

Safe bet: Assume you know nothing about your donors. You’re 99.9% guaranteed correct. So, what do you do in the face of your own abject, pathetic, pitiable ignorance? Send a survey.

Ask a few questions, statistical or open-ended. The best open-ended question Richard Radcliffe (UK, world-class researcher) ever came up with? “Why did you make your first gift to this charity?” – The answer is always personal.

—Tom Ahern, Founder of Ahern Communications

Consider Everything

Make sure you consider issues of diversity, equity and inclusion in your data gathering and interpretation. For example, there is a bias towards quantitative data, but many communities lean toward qualitative data, anecdotes, stories, etc. Those sources of information should not be discounted or looked down on.

Also, be aware of who is collecting data, who is interpreting it and whether it can generalize across groups. Too often, data is aggregated, and many groups are lumped together, making for data that is not only inaccurate, but also potentially harmful. Data is great, but when done wrong, data can be another club to beat communities of color and other marginalized communities with.

—Vu Le, Executive Director of Rainier Valley Corps

Track What Matters, Improve Engagement

Securing repeat donors can be a challenge, but it doesn’t have to be complicated. Here are three areas I’d recommend you focus on to build stronger relationships with your supporters and keep donors coming back.

  1. Share impact stories. Tell your supporters exactly what their gifts are accomplishing.
  2. Give public recognition. A fascinating tidbit: Although most people won’t admit it when asked, studies show that donors are 80% more likely to give money next year if they’re publicly recognized.
  3. Write donors a letter of thanks. This is the most basic and logical step to take after receiving a donation. According to The Able Altruist, 46% of supporters prefer a personalized letter, 35% prefer email, 11% prefer a social media post and just 8% prefer a phone call.

If you focus on these three things, your nonprofit will be on the right track to creating repeat donors this year.

—Jay Wilkinson, Ceo and Founder of Firespring

Harness the Power of “Because”

Which is more likely to get your way?

  1. “Can I cut in front of you in the line?”
  2. “Can I cut in front of you in line because I’d like to be first?”
  3. “Can I cut in front of you in line because I am meeting someone inside and she’s expecting me?”

If you answered #2 AND #3—you’re right! Behavioral science has proven that we are more likely to get our way asking for a favor when we give a reason (even a weak or weird reason) of why we are asking to begin with.

“A well-known principle of human behavior says that when we ask someone to do us a favor we will be more successful if we provide a reason. People simply like to have reasons for what they do.” -Robert Cialdini

Instead of just asking for an email address, explain WHY you want that piece of information, ie: “We would love to know your email address because we want to send you updates on how your donation is helping kitties,” or “We’d like to know your birthday because we want to celebrate it!”

—Rory Green, Associate Director of Development for Simon Fraser University

Find Donor Interests

Demographics and giving amounts is not enough. Collect data on donor interests. For example, people opting into an email newsletter: What projects are they most interested in? Knowing this will help you create more relevant content, and understand what’s important to subscribers.

—John Haydon, Speaker, Author and Coach

Donor Data Checklist

Your donor data is as important as money in the bank. Really.

My clients use this donor data checklist (or something similar) to allow their data to shine the light on next steps of who to contact and where to focus the limited time they have.

  • Who has been giving? For how long?
  • Know your LYBUNT donors (Last Year But Unfortunately Not This Year) & SYBUNTs (Some Years But Unfortunately Not This Year).
  • What do we define as a major gift?
  • What’s our retention rate?
  • What’s our acquisition rate?
  • Why did this person start giving?
  • What are the names and gift sizes of our longest supporting donors?
  • What are the names and gift sizes of our largest donors?
  • How many personal (phone or in-person meeting) contacts do you have annually?
  • Who are you meeting with vs. calling? Is their gift larger than those you don’t meet with?

What actions are our board members taking to connect with our donors?

  • Thank-you calls: to whom?
  • In-person meetings? With Whom?
  • Board member follow-up actions are?:
  • Names of donors board members have agreed to solicit:

Why keep track of all of this activity?

It’s critical to give your supporters a reason to stay connected to YOU. Knowing the answers to the questions on this checklist helps you know what is important to them and where to focus your time. The more you know the better you will be at having personal and authentic communication with your donors.

Keep a close watch for those who have fallen off in their giving. Armed with that information you can reach out to them with a special, compelling message inviting them to return.

—Lori L. Jacobwith, Founder of Ignited Fundraising

Segment Based on the Future

When segmenting donors, don’t just think about what they’ve done in the past. We typically segment based on giving history, so we can refer to donors that way, which is important. But let’s also think about segmenting donors based on what we want them to do TODAY. Are they part of a group of donors likely to upgrade their giving? Or convert to monthly giving? Think about donors in this way and you will give the right groups the most inspiring ask you can!

—Maeve Strathy, What Gives Philanthropy

Utilize Free Resources

Many times nonprofits don’t have the expertise in-house to collect data.  But don’t despair, there are many free resources to get the help you need, either from a resource online or a data volunteer.  Don’t panic about data, here’s some tips: Help! My Nonprofit Needs a Data Nerd.

—Beth Kanter, Speaker and Author

Ask for What You’ll Use

If you’re going to be collecting donor data, make sure you can use it effectively.  I’ve seen organizations ask donors for 15 different pieces of data, but only use two of them.  Don’t ask for more than you can use.  Do you really need to know which college your donor went to?  Maybe, but only if you have a team in place that is focused on reaching out through alumni relationships.  Collect the data you need, then use it to further your ultimate goal, which is to raise more money for your non-profit.

—Joe Garecht,

nonprofit data tips

Lyndsey Hrabik

Lyndsey is a former editor for Nonprofit Hub and Nonprofit Hub Magazine. She now serves as a guest contributor, writing on topics such as social media, technology, marketing and starting a nonprofit.

May 31, 2016

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