4 Types of Data Your Nonprofit Should Collect

Ah, data. In an age of headlines dominated by artificial intelligence, it’s easy to picture the world of data as an incomprehensible explosion of zeros and ones, stretching into infinity à la The Matrix.

Thankfully for nonprofits, data is a lot more exciting and mindful than that dystopian vision.

We’re particularly fond of the definition provided by Cambridge Dictionary:

data (noun): “information, especially facts or numbers, collected to be examined and considered and used to help decision-making, or information in an electronic form that can be stored and used by a computer”

This cuts to the heart of the matter: Data must be useful to your nonprofit. But that feat is easier said than done, so let’s get to it!

Collage of data charts and nonprofit volunteers

How do nonprofits use data?

Nonprofits use data to help them design and implement projects, share information with donors and volunteers, and raise funds. Data allows nonprofits to track progress over time and see which programs are working — or not. By understanding the impact of their efforts, nonprofits can better allocate resources and maximize their potential for making a difference.

Data can also be used to measure success and communicate it to stakeholders.

There are two main types of data: Quantitative and quantitative. And you’ll likely want to use both.

Qualitative Data

Qualitative data is descriptive data that cannot be assigned a numerical value. Donor names, whether or not someone attended an event, and anecdotal survey responses are all examples of qualitative data.

This comes in particularly handy when you’re engaged in behavioral marketing, allowing you to provide a highly segmented or customized experience. And who doesn’t love a personalized experience? In fact, an Epsilon study showed 80% of people are more likely to make a purchase when a campaign is personalized!

Examples of qualitative data in action include list emails that refer to your donors by their first name; an event for donors residing in a specific town; or ads recruiting volunteers who are interested in a specific part of your mission.

Quantitative Data

Quantitative data is — you guessed it! — assigned numerical values. Revenues, conversion rates, website visits, and the number of donors you acquire in a certain time frame are all quantifiable data points.

In reality, qualitative and quantitative data work together to form a fuller picture of your donors, volunteers, and supporters. You need insights from both to help your organization thrive.

Why is data collection important for nonprofits?

Nonprofits must compete for time, attention, and money just like any other entity. That means speaking to the right people, at the right time, the way they want to be spoken to, while showing them the impact of your organization. Data makes all of this possible… at scale!

Furthermore, nonprofit organizations must decide on a few unique Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) to track. These are benchmark data points that help determine the overall health of the organization and help quantify the efficacy of its efforts towards the mission. KPIs also allow you to show just how much of an impact your organization is making.

Just as crucially, your data can unearth stories you might not have noticed otherwise. If your nonprofit provides shoes to underprivileged children, it’s one thing to tell your donors as much. It’s a much more compelling story to deliver 5,000 pairs of kids’ shoes in six months to the most under-resourced school districts of your region.

How do I create a nonprofit donor database?

Your data needs to live in a place that is secure, organized, and easy for the right people (and apps) to access. That place is trusty customer relationship management (CRM) software.

At Big Sea, our favorite CRM for nonprofits is Hubspot. But whichever CRM you choose, it should have these data-savvy features:

  • Third-party app integration. If your organization uses other apps (such as fundraising software), it’s crucial for it to integrate into your CRM so that all data is collected in one centralized spot.
  • Searchability. You should be able to search, segment, and filter to find the data you need, in as few steps as possible.
  • Data visualization. Beautiful and easy-to-use charts and dashboards aren’t just for looks! Visuzaliation is crucial to recognizing valuable trends and finding stories within your dataset.

Need more help? We have a whole guide on how to choose a CRM for your nonprofit (including some that are FREE).

What should be included in a donor database?

Donor personal information, like name, contact information, donor payment method, and contact preferences are must-haves in your database. When you pair that information with quantitative data like donation amounts, gifting dates, frequency, and the campaign they gave to, it can provide powerful insights into patterns of giving within your donor base.

In addition, you can learn more about your donors by including information like their involvement and engagement level with the organization, income information, interests and preferences (i.e. what causes is a donor most passionate about?), feedback and survey responses, and personal milestones like Birthdays or support anniversaries.

Why is segmentation crucial?

Your data is only useful when it is clean and organized. Data segmentation is the process of sorting similar data by defined parameters. This is what allows you to understand connections between data points like gender, zip code, acquisition date range, and anything else you track.

Data segmentation allows you to take different perspectives on your data. For example, let’s say you wanted to view information about the personalities of your donors. You could segment your data by psychographic information such as lifestyle, campaign preferences, and psychological characteristics to gain more insights into giving patterns.

Behavioral marketing is built on data segmentation. As we’ve mentioned before, customers have come to expect a personalized experience, and it’s statistically proven to convert more donors. In addition, advanced marketing techniques like upselling, cross-selling, retargeting, or abandoned cart notices are impossible without segmentation.

What is clean data?

Clean data is free of erroneous, inaccurate, or duplicate information, and it is reliable and can be segmented. Cleaning data is one of the most important parts of the data analysis process. All data, no matter how streamlined your collection process is, will inevitably contain errors and inaccuracies. Cleaning ensures the removal of:

  • Outdated information. Deceased donors, old email addresses, and long-cold leads are all of no value.
  • Duplicate data should be deleted.
  • Excessive data you know you will never use.
  • Mislabeled or incorrectly formatted data.
  • Statistical outliers capable of skewing your datasets.

Lastly, practicing good data hygiene helps future-proof your data strategy. As deep machine learning and artificial intelligence tools evolve at a breakneck speed, only entities with clean, organized, segmented data will stand to reap the benefits.

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4 Types of Data Your Nonprofit Should Collect

There are four main categories of data your nonprofit should collect: Donor, marketing and campaign, website, and external data. While this list is far from exhaustive, and there is some overlap between categories, it’s a strong start to getting your data ducks in a row!

1. Donor Data

This can feel impersonal at first, but rather than turning your donors into faceless data points, collecting data is the best way to get to know them. And the more you know about who donors are, their pain points, and their motivations, the better you can serve them in return.

At the bare minimum, you should be collecting the following donor data:

  • Name. Even better if it’s their preferred name and title.
  • Date of birth. This is crucial for segmentation of marketing efforts. Just think of how differently Gen Z and Baby Boomers like to be spoken to!
  • Email address, phone number, and mailing address. The most top-notch marketing efforts are futile if your contact information is inaccurate or out-of-date.

Now that you’ve got the basics, let’s dig in a little further, starting with highest-priority data points:

  • Employment. By knowing what your donors do for work, you can unearth valuable corporate connections, potential employer match benefits, and get a deeper understanding of each individual donor as well as a better picture of their financial situation.
  • Education. This is a possible predictor of which causes they’re willing to support in the future.
  • Giving history. Is this person on a monthly microdonation plan? A trusty holiday season giver who drops a big gift every December? Or a one-time donor who could use a little reminder about your mission? You’ll want to market to each accordingly. This information also helps your team project future donation trends.
  • Interests. Imagine finding out your top donors tend to seek out live music. Book a beloved local band for your next in-person event!
  • Other charitable efforts. Knowing other organizations this person cares about could give you cross-promotional opportunities.

2. Marketing & Campaign Data

Marketing and campaign data helps you measure your efforts. These metrics become your yardstick for success. Whether you have an in-house marketing team or work alongside a marketing agency, you must have this information to create informed strategies in the future.

Marketing data can get incredibly nuanced, but here are some examples of common KPIs:

  • Subscriptions. This could be to your newsletter, podcast, or publication.
  • Social media engagement. Reach, video views, likes, shares, and comments.
  • Email open and click rates. Your email marketing strategy hinges on these KPIs. Are your subscribers compelled to open and read your emails? Are they clicking links?
  • Donor Acquisition Cost (DAC). How much does it cost (on average) to get a new donor? This number helps you determine your spend for future marketing efforts.

It’s important to note marketing data is an umbrella that also includes campaign data. Nonprofit campaign data shows how well specific campaign efforts are supporting your organization’s objectives. Some examples include

  • Events. Whether you’re hosting an in-person or online event, you can track metrics like reservations, actual attendance, and follow-up email opens.
  • Campaign conversions. How many people respond to your campaign with a designated conversion (like sign-ups and donations)?
  • Revenue. The donations, corporate matches, and other monetary income generated by the campaign.
  • Retention rates. If your campaign is targeted at keeping existing donors or volunteers engaged, this data will be your north star.

With these metrics in hand, nonprofits can dial in their most effective, cost-efficient marketing strategy.

Data collection, understanding, and implementation is vital when creating effective marketing strategies to support your organization’s goals. The more you understand the data, the more you understand your target audience which allows you to know how to spend your marketing dollars in the most efficient and effective ways.-Jen LaRue, Big Sea, Associate Vice President, Marketing

3. Website Data

Your website should act as a helpful extension of your team. It comes as no surprise, you can determine your website’s efficacy through some basic data points.

Crucial website data includes:

  • Website Traffic. This one is pretty straightforward. It’s the number of people who land on your website in a given amount of time (usually per month). Ideally, we’d like to see this number go up steadily over time!
  • Traffic Sources. Are your users arriving to your website through your social media posts? Through paid media efforts? Or perhaps they’re Googling a topic you’ve blogged about. Still others might be direct traffic who type in your URL (insertthenameofyournonprofit.com). Traffic source is valuable information that gives you insight into which marketing efforts are paying off and which ones need a boost.
  • Engagement or Bounce Rate. Now that you know how many people are landing on your page and how they got there, you want to know if they’re feeling compelled to interact meaningfully with your content. Engagement rates show that, while bounce rate reveals the number of people who land on a page, and then leave without navigating to any other parts of the website. You have some research to do: Are they leaving because the website is hard to navigate? Or because your marketing efforts are not attracting the “right” people?
  • Conversions. Ultimately, your website should lead users to a call to action. Typically for nonprofits, it’s an ask for a donation or signing up for an event or to volunteer. In this case, you want to know how many people your website is converting from a visitor to an engaged member of the community.

All of these website data points can be tracked over time with a free tool like Google Analytics.

4. External Data

External data comes from outside of your organization, but pertains to the mission at hand. This data could be collected from sources like public records, research, or privately funded surveys.

Information in this category will help you demonstrate the potential impact of your organization. For example, let’s say your nonprofit is dedicated to increasing childhood literacy. Your donors may be more moved to give if you are able to show them that reading comprehension scores in your state are amongst the lowest in the nation.

Let’s build a data-driven nonprofit marketing campaign

We’ve covered quite an array of possible data points in this blog, but it’s just a sampling of the vast number of options available to your nonprofit. And no two nonprofits are alike. If the sea of possibility makes your head spin, you’re not alone! And we’re here to help.

At Big Sea, we work alongside our clients to establish impactful KPIs, connect with donors in a personalized way, and execute growth-driven marketing strategies. Reach out and let’s grow your organization together!