Guild Gathering: Data & Fundraising

by Danielle Gauthier

Posted August 19, 2018

Once a month, our staff hosts a "Guild Gathering" to explore a timely topic. Read on to discover what was on our minds this month...

Our staff recently came together to discuss a fascinating article from The Chronicle of Philanthropy: “How One Nonprofit Identified Website Visitors by Traits — and Saw Fundraising Spike”. The article details how Mental Health America, a nonprofit dedicated to mental health support, recovery, and advocacy since 1909, decided to make a radical change in how they analyzed their website visitors’ patterns and needs. Over the course of two days, CEO Paul Gionfriddo and his headquarters staff of fewer than 30 people, sorted through all the data they had on the roughly 7 million people a year who were visiting the organization’s website for online mental health screenings and other resources providing treatment and support. The results surprised them. Here are a few of the key takeaways they discovered from their data analysis:

  • Website visitors could be segmented into 13 different “personas” (individuals who share a collection of characteristics that can be targeted using the same marketing methods), including, for instance, grandmothers with a higher net worth who are passionate about mental health advocacy.
  • In general, site users skewed younger and female.
  • Many of the site users were seeking tools to screen themselves for specific illnesses and resources to treat their symptoms.

Drawing upon this data, Mental Health America was able to redesign their website to better suit the varying needs of the 13 personas. During our staff gathering, we discussed how Mental Health America’s evolving interest in data analytics is mirrored by our clients.

Our staff members who have worked closely with art clients on fundraising campaigns discussed an increasingly intensive focus on journey mapping at the museums. The art organizations hope to gain a better understanding of what aspects of the museum visitors are enjoying (and which they’re not) by tracking their experience. This concept was also discussed at one of our recent “Data + the Greater Good” Meetups in NYC (read more here); Carolyn Royston, while serving as the Director of Digital and Information Services at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston, discovered that visitors were not enjoying the museum as much because they were entering already frustrated by their parking experience.

We also discussed how arts organizations can use data to inform which donors to approach and when. For instance, a national public radio station and former client profiled listeners to better understand which programs they were listening to and during which hours of the day. From this data, they were able to make reasonable assumptions about which of their listeners were employed and could then make a better-informed ask.

Our staff has also witnessed an increasing reliance on and utilization of data within the higher education sector. Universities are analyzing commonalities shared by leadership-level gift makers and then assessing why others with those shared commonalities and capacity to give aren’t donating at the same level. Universities are also discovering the potential of social media in identifying untapped donor prospects. By analyzing which of the university’s social media content that followers are engaging with, universities can then personalize the ask and timing. For instance, if a possible donor regularly likes and shares the university’s posts about the basketball team, it would make sense to ask them for a donation in support of the team while in season.

Overall, our staff agreed on a couple key takeaways:

  • Regardless of sector or size of ask, strong and clear messaging is invaluable. An organization needs to be able to communicate to donors what they stand for and how the donation will further their message and cause.
  • Personas can be a great tool for understanding members’ needs and personalizing the ask, but organizations need to be aware of the dangers of pigeon-holing. Becoming overly dependent on personas can limit who an organization approaches for gifts and when, forgoing possible donations by making the ask too late or not at all.

Data is an important tool for fundraisers, though one of many. By drawing upon the knowledge gleaned from data analysis, as well as the insights gained from long-existing relationships with donors and word-of-mouth, organizations can expand their abilities to connect with both old and new donors in meaningful and effective ways.

Development Guild DDI is a nonprofit leadership development consulting firm that provides executive search, fundraising counsel, and campaign services.


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