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The Data Behind Your Nonprofit’s Communication Strategy

Published: Apr 29, 2021

Effectively communicating with your donors requires understanding your donors’ interests and needs, and you can gain this understanding collecting data. “Data-driven decision making” has become a frequently used buzzword recently, but the idea it represents remains true—directing your communication strategies based on data collected from past campaigns allows you to continually improve your outreach.

Using data to understand and manage donors is a cycle. You collect data by speaking to donors, you use that data to understand your donors and build communication strategies, then you speak to your donors again using your new strategy to collect new information. Optimizing communication is a continuous, ongoing process, and it’s unlikely your nonprofit will ever reach a point where you no longer need donor data. 

Your nonprofit has already likely engaged with this cycle at some point. However, whether your past efforts were successful or not, you can continually improve your approach to your donor data by:

  • Understanding Your CRM
  • Crafting Effective Communication Strategies 
  • Analyzing Your Campaign’s Outcomes

These steps roughly follow the stages of a marketing campaign. You first prepare to collect data, then create strategies based on the information you have, and finally analyze the results. This article explores each of these stages in depth to provide a deeper understanding of what your data means and how it can be leveraged to improve your donors’ engagement journeys.

Understand Your CRM

CRM stands for constituent relationship management, and your CRM is the hub of all of your donor information. Once this database is set up and synced with your other nonprofit software platforms, you’ll be able to collect and store important donor information within it. The key here is to ensure an integrated system with software such as your donation form, messaging service, and event management tools.

CharityEngine’s nonprofit CRM guide breaks down in further detail what a CRM does and why it’s worth taking the time to optimize yours. To help improve your communication strategies, your CRM will collect data on: 

  • Donors. Use your CRM to create individual profiles for each of your donors, tracking the information regarding their donations, registrations, subscriptions, communications and other interactions with your organization. Have they attended events in the past? Have they donated? How much and how frequently do they donate? You can find all of this important information in donor profiles. Make sure to ask your donors for relevant and useful information on forms and in conversations. Avoiding trivial questions will keep their engagement and ensure you only collect the useful data. 
  • Campaigns. By tracking individual transactions with donors during your campaigns, you can leverage your CRM to compile reports about your campaign that will help inform your next fundraiser’s direction. For example, if you include tracking URLs on marketing materials, you’ll be able to gather data about where your supporters are finding your marketing materials and how many of them are clicking through to your donation page or other key resources. If you discover one channel was more successful than the others, you can study your approach there and try to recreate your results in other platforms. 
  • Online fundraising. If your CRM comes with fully integrated fundraising software, data from donations will flow directly into your internal records. Your donation form should either be built into your CRM or synced up with it frequently, so there is no need to manually transfer data from one system to the other. Being able to track donations in real-time doesn’t just allow you to more efficiently collect data, but also, during events, you can share with your supporters how close your campaign is to your fundraising goal.
  • Communication. Automated messaging is one of a CRM’s biggest selling points as it allows you to immediately communicate with your entire donor base and react to their specific interactions with your organization. Your CRM will record which messages it sends to donors, what platforms it sends messages on, and which of your messages receive responses. As you refine your communication strategy, pay close attention to the data your CRM brings in to identify trends in how your supporters respond to your messages. For example, you might discover that your supporters prefer or are more responsive to text messages than emails, which warrants a change in how you approach your media channels.

Once you collect this data, you’ll need to analyze it. Ensure your CRM comes with filters and reporting features, allowing your team to refine and manipulate data to examine specific relationships between your donors and your communication strategy.

As you explore your data, you may find entry errors, inconsistencies, and unusable information. These minor frustrations are known as unclean data, and they naturally accumulate over time. You can improve your data acquisition by restricting what information your data entry forms will accept, but you’ll still likely need to schedule routine cleanups of your database to remove outdated information to prevent it from cluttering your reports. 

Craft Effective Communication Strategies

Data is only useful if you do something with it. After using your CRM to collect and organize data, you can put it to use informing your communication strategies. Your exact action plan will be dependent on what your data tells you. However, there are a few common communication strategies that nonprofits often take in response to their data, while also collecting additional data. 

For instance, consider what platforms your data tells you your supporters are already using. Multi-channel fundraising strategies allow your nonprofit to compare engagement on various platforms while also increasing the number of donor touchpoints you reach supporters with. Check your interactivity rates on social media, your response rates for email communication, and your open rates for text messages.

In addition to improving your outreach strategies, the data your CRM collects can help guide your nonprofit’s approach to high-value donations and major gifts. Major gift acquisition and management is a four step process, and proper data management is essential for every piece of your communication strategy. 

Major Gift Data
  1. Begin engagement. In step one, you need to find your major donors. It’s rare a major donor begins their engagement with your nonprofit with a major gift. As you have yet to identify who your potential major donors are, you’ll need to collect data on all of your donors. After all, your donor database will be the first place to look for prospective major gifts. Make sure to optimize the donation experience for all of your donors and show appreciation right away so that everyone has a positive first impression. Then, you can dive into the next step of the major gift strategy: research.
  1. Prospect donors. Donor profiles allow you to understand each of your donor’s giving habits on an individual level. Partnering with a wealth prospecting database can help you analyze all of your donors to find individuals who have the potential to become major donors. These individuals usually have a high net worth, have given to similar nonprofits in the past, own numerous real estate properties, or have corporate connections. 
  1. Steward relationships. Once your data has helped find your potential major donors, you can begin cultivating a relationship with them. If you identify them within 48 hours of their first donation, consider giving them a personal call to thank them for their contribution. If they’re found later, it’s not too late as you can still invite them to events, update them on your nonprofit’s current activities, and use your wealth prospecting tool to identify further opportunities for continued engagement. Use your CRM to record each interaction to identify where you are in your relationship with major donors to make sure you make your ask at the right moment. 
  1. Receive gift and follow-up. If your fundraising ask is successful, you will receive a major donation, which you should record in your CRM right away. All of your donors should receive a thank you for their contribution, but major donors warrant more than an automatic follow-up email. Send them a handwritten thank you letter or card, honor them at events, and consider constructing a donorwall or similar monument.

The data you collect throughout your relationship with major donors helps your communication team make decisions that could have major impacts on your nonprofit. You can (and should) use your data to build relationships with other kinds of donors, too. Use data to refine your outreach approach to recurring donors, volunteers who might become donors, new donors, and any other segment of your donors your data shows has potential.

Analyze Your Campaign’s Outcomes 

You will collect a lot of data over the course of your campaign. During the campaign, you should use data to course correct and capitalize on opportunities, but afterwards, use your data to assess your campaign’s success and make adjustments where necessary.

DNL OmniMedia’s guide to nonprofit data management strategies recommends taking the time after a campaign to research new software integrations that can improve your CRM, perform data maintenance to ensure a hygienic database, and work with tech consultants to implement better data management practices. 

DNL OmniMedia’s advice on consulting services offers multiple benefits, but be sure to consider which type of consultant is best suited for your organization’s current needs. Here are three different kinds of consultants to consider reaching out to:

  1. Technology. As mentioned, nonprofit tech consultants have highly specialized knowledge that can help your nonprofit streamline its entire data collection system. Nonprofit tech consultants can help train your team, find software solutions, and improve your data management strategies
  1. Fundraising. Fundraising consultants focus on providing tips to build your nonprofit’s relationship with donors, plan your fundraising campaigns, and train your team to continually put these strategies into practice after your consultation. When you approach a fundraising consultant, make sure you have the specifications of what you need from the consultation ironed out first. This avoids wasting additional time assessing if the consultant’s services fit with your ultimate goals. 
  1. Finances. If you have trouble tracking your budget, transaction history, and other financial data, consider hiring a bookkeeping or accounting consultant. Bookkeepers will record your financial transactions, while accountants examine your financial reports to make observations about the “why” behind your financial data. If you need more than a consultant in this area, you might also consider outsourcing your bookkeeping and accounting services to a professional firm that specializes in these services. 

Reach out to your contacts to find a referral for a consultant who matches your nonprofit’s needs. You can also conduct your own research using guides like this one that provide an overview of several consulting options. 

Don’t let your data overwhelm you. The right management, application, and analysis lets your nonprofit collect and leverage data to improve your communication strategy. Data driven decisions can allow your nonprofit to understand its donors on a deeper level and uncover key outreach opportunities to massively impact your fundraising efforts. 

Author: Leigh Kessler – VP, Marketing & Communications

Leigh Kessler is VP of Marketing and Communications at donor management software platform CharityEngine and a frequent speaker on branding, fundraising, data and technology.  He is a former nationally touring headline comedian and has appeared on numerous TV shows including VH1’s “Best Week Ever”, CNN’s “Showbiz Tonight”, Discovery Channel & Sirius Radio. He has overseen and informed research and branding strategies for some of the most well known brands in America. 

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