Data is both a blessing and a major frustration for many organizations, especially nonprofits. It can provide incredibly valuable information to support organizational, programmatic and fundraising goals, but it can also be overwhelming and hard to put to good use. There is so much data available today – the challenge is choosing which data is most critical to collect and how to glean the insights from it needed to inform decision making, particularly with limited budgets.

According to the State of Nonprofit Data report, nonprofits are doing a fairly good job when it comes to collecting financial and operational data. They are not nearly as dedicated to tracking data used for marketing, communications and fundraising purposes. And in the age of online engagement, it’s shocking to find that only half of organizations are tracking the most basic metrics, such as website visitors, email opens and Facebook Likes. 

Viewed from a narrow fundraising perspective, resistance to committing resources toward capturing and analyzing online data is somewhat understandable. While there’s been considerable growth in online giving, it still makes up only a fraction of most nonprofits’ overall donations. But when viewed from the lens of meaningful engagement and evolving trends in giving, organizations that don’t dig deeper into that data are missing a huge opportunity.

For health-related nonprofits, this is particularly true. According to the 2014 Charitable Giving Report, online giving to healthcare nonprofits grew over 13 percent last year, ranking second highest among all sectors, while overall giving actually declined nearly 4 percent.

Many organizations are responding to these trends by recasting their lead generation approaches to focus on online/digital content marketing strategies. Here too is where data becomes critical in determining the type of content that resonates with your target audience and ensuring that the interaction with that content leads down a path to conversion – whether that call-to-action is volunteering, donating or attending an event.

While limited resources are often the reason behind nonprofits not making the investment in data tracking and analysis, it’s also the reason why doing so is crucial. With the help of free or low-cost tools such Google Analytics and a little training on interpretation, you can gain important insights on the types of content your audience is most interacting with, as well as determine if their online experience is leading them along that conversion journey. By spotting the points where they get side-tracked or where you lose them completely, you can make necessary and often simple adjustments that can improve engagement and action. It also allows you to invest your resources wisely by focusing on the content and digital platforms that have the greatest impact.  

For good reason, nonprofits are often envious of corporations’ data capabilities. But when it comes to web-analytics and what organizations can learn from them, it’s a far more even playing field. You don’t need a big budget to gain visibility on whether you’re telling the right story, in the right order, with the right channel, to the right audience. The investment required will be very much worth the return.


Janet Schiller is Vice President of Healthcare/Advocacy Practice at Coyne PR