Nonprofit Strategy

How Do Your Stats Sound?

“If you want to be heard, you gotta get loud.”


That’s from the “liner notes” of the new M+R Benchmark Study “of nonprofit digital advocacy, fundraising, social, and advertising.”

Don’t be fooled by the musical riff. This is hard-core data. Even bigger, better and bolder than before. It’s also a must-read resource for any nonprofit development professional. 

There’s virtually no way to offer a simple synopsis of this year’s report. And that’s the beauty of it. More nonprofits participated (133:105) and the insights and analysis of the eight different sectors seem to go even deeper. The overall averages are interesting, but I found looking at sector-specific trends provided even greater insight. 

For example, while participants in the Wildlife/Animal Welfare sector saw lower than average email revenue growth (+5% compared to +15%), their growth in overall online revenue was slightly higher (+16% compared to +14%). Is that because they’re more active on social media (more followers and a higher-than-average number of posts per day)? Or could it be due to their higher-than-average increase in spending on digital advertising (+85% compared to +69%)? 

Some trends should cause concern.

  • The number of messages per constituent went up again, 10%. The average subscriber got 69 messages per year from every nonprofit they support. (24 fundraising messages, 20 advocacy messages,  11 newsletters and 14 others). Is it any wonder that open rates, clickthrough rates and response rates all went down? (Fundraising responses rates now average 0.05%. That’s one response to every 2,000 emails!)
  • Nonprofits are becoming more active in social media as well. But while the number of Facebook fans and posts have increased, this report estimates that only about 8% of your fans will see a post if it’s not promoted. And only about 3% of the posts were promoted.

There are encouraging trends as well:

  • Overall online revenue is up (+14%), list size is up (+10%), website traffic is up (+3.6%) and monthly giving continues to grow (+23%).
  • Some sectors are doing exceptionally well at engaging constituents. Public Media newsletters, for example, saw an average open rate of 24% (compared to 14% overall). 
  • While only a few of your fans are likely to see your Facebook post, it will also be seen by about as many people who aren't currently connected to you.

And then there are details that are just downright interesting. Like comparing to the types of content posted. Wouldn’t that be helpful to consider as you planned your social media activity?

I think M+R along with NTEN, the Nonprofit Technology Network has done the industry a tremendous service by publishing Benchmarks 2017.

Check it out for yourself. I think you’ll agree!

Secrets of Data Driven Nonprofts

“Data literacy is one of the most valuable skills you can have today and as you move into the future.”

Sounds like advice you might find in a book entitled "Data Driven Nonprofits," doesn’t it?

I had the good fortune to hear the author, Steve MacLaughlin, (again!) as the featured speaker at Nonprofit Connect’s 'think-tank Thursday,' “Secrets of Data Driven Nonprofits.” 

I’ve heard Steve speak a number of times. He’s a great resource on trends in giving, and as Vice President of Data & Analytics at Blackbaud, has a wealth of information at his fingertips.

It also gives him the benefit of watching a broad cross-section of our industry. I found his illustration of the data maturation process - i.e., how organizations understand and use data – very insightful. Essentially, the stages are:
• Descriptive - "What happened?"
• Diagnostic - "Why?"
• Predictive - "What will happen?"
• Prescriptive - "What should we do?"

Unfortunately, many nonprofits are barely at stage one, while the most successful have grown far beyond that. (One caveat: predictive and prescriptive analytics require the use of outside data, which also happens to be one of Blackbaud’s key businesses.)

MacLaughlin identified five secrets (aka best practices) to moving your organization toward taking best advantage of the data available to it.

  1. Data health (better semantic than data hygiene, which he feels sounds painful) – habits to help ensure and maintain the quality and completeness of constituent data.
  2. Champions at all levels – advocates for data management and data-based decision-making throughout the organization.
  3. Data is not a foreign object – making the understanding and use of data routine, "part of the day-to-day fabric" of the organization.  
  4. Good storytelling – data doesn’t speak for itself; it’s a prop for a story and how you present (visualize) that prop can make or break the story.
  5. Culture – the use of data has to fit the culture of the organization. He identified seven different types of organizational culture: champions, change, testing, sharing, growth, agile and data.

So far, I’ve only glanced at the book, but if it offers the same combination of anecdotal and data-based insights that was presented this morning, I already know it’s worth the time.

And if you weren’t able to attend this Nonprofit Connect session, I recommend you pick up a copy as well.

So, What Did You Expect?

When I graduated from being a member of the parish school board to my first position on a local non-profit’s board of directors, it was an eye-opening elevation. 

As a long-time volunteer for the organization, I saw the invitation as an honor ... a recognition of the time I had contributed.

I was also flattered when told my insights and experience would be a valuable addition to the marketing committee ... in obvious recognition of my talent.

When, a few weeks into my term, the board president asked for an appointment, I readily agreed. Imagine my surprise when she asked for a multi-year, multi-thousand commitment of my treasure as well.

The old time, talent or treasure commitment I thought I made fell far short of the time, talent AND treasure expected.

I served a single term on that board, never fully recovering from the initial dissonance. Which means I also never really committed in any of those three critical areas as fully as I might have.

In the years since I’ve grown to appreciate that, with a greater understanding and acceptance of what was expected, I might have also had a greater impact in the position.

Every time an executive director laments his or her relationship with the board – especially in terms of failure to meet expected levels of performance – I question how clearly they see the relationship between recruiting and results.

But that may be a topic for another day. Stay tuned.