In the first part of this blog, I discussed how vital it is for a charity to have a clear purpose and inspire trust among its supporters. This second part is about data. Specifically, how you collect the data you need to help you improve your fundraising and your charity’s performance. In the final part of this blog, I’ll look at how you analyse the data you have collected.
“It is a capital mistake to theorise before one has data.” This quote from Sherlock Holmes proves that there is nothing new under the sun. The famous (fictional) detective, wouldn’t have dreamt of solving a crime without having the evidence he needed at his fingertips. Nor should charities try to overcome the challenges they face without having the relevant data to hand.
What data does your charity need?
This begs the question: what data does your charity require? In this digital age, most charities are awash with data and one of the biggest problems can be deciding what you need and why.
For this blog, let’s assume you want to use data to improve your charity’s fundraising. (Data can be used to improve a charity’s performance in other ways such as financial management and employee performance for example, but I’ll leave that for a future blog.)
As a starting point, the data you collect should be accurate, consistent and relevant. By relevant, I mean there must be a reason why you are collecting the data. Ask yourself what question(s) you are trying to use the data to answer and decide what to collect based on that.
In terms of fundraising, I would suggest thinking about data in three distinct areas, but they all revolve around people – who they are, how they act and what their motivations are:
In other words, who are your supporters? What are their names, are they male or female, how old are they, where do they live and how do they like to be communicated with ie by telephone, letter, email, text message, etc? What information do you need to improve your communication with existing supporters and your ability to identify new ones like them?
2. Behavioural data
This lets you know how your supporters behave in relation to your charity. This can tell you how much and how regularly someone gives to the charity, for example. It can also inform you how frequently people visit the charity’s website and what they click on or how they respond to emails or email newsletters. Much of this can be automated using some of the fantastic software currently available.
3. Attitudinal data
This data tells you why people support your charity, what their motivations are towards your charity and what their attitude is to life in general. This type of data can be collected by engaging directly with your supporters using tools such as telephone surveys and online questionnaires.
Macmillan Cancer Support used data generated in this way to change the focus of their World’s Biggest Coffee Morning campaign from something women could do for the charity to what the event could do for them. Instead of asking women to “send for your fundraising pack” they asked them to “order your free coffee morning kit”. This subtle change led to a boost to the income generated by the event of several million pounds.
The process of data collection
When we work with a charity, the first step is to carry out a system, process and data audit (which we do for free). We establish where and how your data is stored and recommend whether improvements need to be made and, if so, how. This may mean just changing the way you collect the data, or at the other extreme, considering a new CRM system that collates everything in one place (“one truth”). This doesn’t need to be an expensive option by the way. Alternatively, can you pull data from different places into one piece of business information software and gain the insights you need there.
Use data but focus on people
The importance of focusing on people as individuals in relation to fundraising was highlighted in a recent report on the sector, The Future Charity. This concluded that “charities need to recognise the changing behaviour of consumers and open up to the idea that each individual wants to relate to the cause in a different way. A higher level of personalisation, and audience-first services and campaigns, can be enabled through the judicious use of data.”
To do this, you may have to be creative to work out ways to measure what you need to know about your supporters and how they behave but it will bear dividends compared to relying on gut feeling.
Or, as Sherlock Holmes put it: “Never trust to general impressions, my boy, but concentrate yourself upon details.”
Once you have the data you need, the next step is to analyse it and change how you operate based on your findings. This is what I will cover in the final part of this blog.