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  • Ryan Brooks

Data-Driven Development for Nonprofits

Use Data-Driven Fundraising to Stay Mission Focused

Have you ever worked at a nonprofit that offers a program or service that just doesn’t seem to make sense for your organization? Maybe it doesn’t quite align with your mission. Or, it seems to use a lot of resources for little impact. 

These kinds of programs are often donor-funded and donor-designed. Donors are the lifeblood of many nonprofits, especially smaller nonprofits with very little grant funding. Generous donors keep the lights on and the services open. Is it really surprising that, on occasion, they heavily influence our work and decision-making? It’s probably not the best use of anyone’s resources, but it’s a challenge that many nonprofits experience.

Your organization can avoid (and possibly reverse) this situation. You can offer programming that matches your nonprofit’s mission and vision when you have a data-driven development strategy

What is a data-driven development strategy? 

With a data-driven development strategy, nonprofits will:

  1. use data that you collect about your programs and participants to drive your strategic goals

  2. align fundraising priorities with those goals

  3. tell stories about community needs and program impacts that emphasize your goals

Easy right? Let’s use an example from a college to show how this can work.

Example of Data-Driven Development: Starting a College Food Pantry

Food insecurity on college campuses was rarely talked about until about 10 years ago. Many people assumed that students were not food insecure, or even worse, that being somewhat food insecure was part of the college experience. Surviving on free pizza from events and cheap noodles builds character, right? Yikes! In recent years, our understanding of food insecurity on college campuses has changed.

At the college in this example, advisors, faculty, and staff knew that food insecurity was a real issue. Individuals at the college often kept granola bars and other non-perishable food items in their desks for students in need. But, the scope of the issue was not known until a group of faculty and administrators decided to actually measure the issue.  A simple survey using the USDA questions on food insecurity (pdf) was sent to students, and it illuminated a much larger challenge than originally thought. 

Here is where data-driven development really kicks in.

Having the data on food insecurity showed there was a big problem for students. The college responded to the problem by creating a strategic goal to reduce food insecurity among students. To achieve that goal, they would need to give students easy access to food. There were food pantries in the community, but those pantries were often inaccessible to students who didn’t have cars or easy access to public transportation. Simply, the college needed its own campus food pantry if it wanted to achieve the goal. 

This strategic goal turned into a fundraising priority. Using the data from the survey and stories collected from students about their experiences with food insecurity, the college was able to sell their vision for a food pantry to a wide variety of donors. It took lots of time and conversations to find the right donor to make a large gift to start the pantry, but it worked. 

Data-Driven Development Gives Nonprofits More Control

This is a great example of using data to drive your fundraising strategy. It shows how an organization was able to drive their own priorities when the data aligned with their fundraising strategy to make real change. 

Nonprofits can use this approach (i.e. connecting data, strategy, and fundraising) for big new initiatives and ongoing operations. Data on your programs, participants, and community needs should be central to how you make decisions in your organization, track your progress, and tell your story.  Once they are, you can align your fundraising priorities with data.

This approach has 3 major benefits:

  1. impact drives interest

  2. it highlights gaps and opportunities

  3. It helps you maintain control by steering donors to existing needs

Impact Drives Interest

When you have data that shows you’re making an impact, it creates a compelling argument that will excite donors. Let’s say you run a mental health and wellness support organization. Many people are passionate about these issues, and there is plenty of data showing the prevalence of mental health needs across the United States. 

Your organization can explain how mental health affects people in your community and demonstrate your impact. Tracking community needs and reporting on your achievements can inspire donors. The number of individuals served, how long they were engaged with you, and their outcomes (e.g., feeling stable enough to seek outside treatment) should be celebrated and central to the stories you share with donors.

Highlight Gaps and Opportunities

Aligning data with your strategy and fundraising can highlight existing or emerging gaps in your services, and create a space and strategy for further support. For example, a nonprofit that offers drop-in services and space for LGBT+ youth was funding that more and more of their youth were identifying as neurodivergent. It came up in staff meetings, and the organization was trying to figure out if this was a real trend or not. The staff added a question to their check-in questionnaire and learned that over a quarter of the youth identified as neurodivergent. 

Digging deeper, the staff then asked youth on simple, anonymous index cards that were left in a shoebox to share how the nonprofit could better support neurodivergent youth. These ideas drove new initiatives, including sensory friendly outings and a weekly group for queer, neurodivergent youth. 

The next step is to use that information, including their demographic data, to highlight opportunities for donors to give directly to those programs. Donors feel excited and inspired to support programs that are clearly needed - confident that their support will make an impact. 

Maintain Control

Lots of nonprofits run programs that don’t quite fit because (generous) donors might have pushed them in that direction. There will always be donors with specific ideas or requests. Using data-driven fundraising can help you steer donors toward your existing strengths, focus them on key priorities, and encourage them to invest in work that fits with your purpose.

Data is the key to wrapping all of these things together with a bow… a bow that is hopefully on top of a very large check.

Reporting your impact is hard when you’re juggling spreadsheets. countbubble makes it easy so you can focus on your mission.

 countbubble is case management simplified. We can help your nonprofit master data collection and reporting. Email us  or sign up for email updates on blog posts, useful content for nonprofits, and product updates.

Founder, CountBubble, LLC

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