Archive | February, 2013

The Problem With Non Profits: Bad Data

5 Feb

Without good data, and in my experience good data is the exception not the rule, an organization is starting from a position of weakness. Every important marketing function relies on good data: fundraising, donor management, constituent management, email communications, segmentation, building relationships, driving peer to peer marketing… all of these and more rely on data.

Here’s an example: a couple of years ago I applied to be a Big Brother. I didn’t hear anything back, despite following up a couple of times, and after three months I forgot all about it. Six months later, at the end of the year, I started getting donation requests from them. No mention of my application to be a part of their program (or their subsequent silence, I was simply added to their end of year donation drive.


That’s bad for two reasons: the obvious one is that I was ignored, but the other is that by asking somebody who had offered to be a part of the program for money right away, you risk putting them off the organization as a whole and damaging future efforts. If an organization can’t be bothered to email me back when I’m offering to help them, why should I respond to their donation ask? Should I really trust them with my money if they appear this inefficient in their mission?

It’s a tough challenge: non profits are generally more risk averse than their for profit counterparts, and explaining to a board of directors why data is so important is not easy. Getting the rest of an organization onboard if you’re able to clear that first hurdle is harder still. It’s critical though, and I believe it is the single most important factor for success for today’s non profit.

Look at an organization like Charity Water. Those guys are brilliantly nimble in their communications and who message donors long after they have donated with updates on what their money is doing. Their approach is really smart and effective at creating an ongoing connection between the donor and the mission, but it would be impossible to do effectively without good data.

Organizations have spent years, in some cases decades, building various data sets, often  across multiple different platforms, but a non profit that does not prioritize data is a non profit that is going to struggle mightily in the years ahead.