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By DonorSearch

While 2020 has been a year of major challenges, it has, hopefully, also been a time for plenty of successful adaptations. The nonprofit sector has shown incredible resilience and resourcefulness amid the COVID-19 pandemic and its economic impact. 

With in-person events on hold and resources stretched tighter than ever for many, nonprofits of all sizes have successfully kept their donors engaged and reached broader audiences of supporters thanks to updated virtual fundraising tactics. With this shift towards virtual fundraising and engagement comes the ever-increasing importance of data.

Data is already a key part of the strategies of savvy nonprofits, but it’s become more crucial than ever for two reasons:

  1. Competition for your donors’ attention online is fierce during this virtual era. Data is essential for better targeting your campaigns and messages to catch supporters’ eyes, generate engagement, and drive more donations to completion.
  2. Virtual and online-only strategies naturally generate much more data than traditional tactics. Without strategies in place for organizing and actually using that data, your team can quickly become overwhelmed and lose focus.

If you’re not actively putting your fundraising and engagement data to use (or if you simply haven’t updated your data strategies in a while), you’re missing out. Effective and targeted campaigns are essential heading into 2021 as we continue to grapple with ongoing challenges. Data should inform every strategic initiative you take on, from major campaigns to everyday relationship-building and follow-up actions. But where do you start?

At Soapbox Engage, we develop fundraising and engagement apps for growing nonprofits, so we’ve seen the difference that data—and the integrated systems that maximize its value—makes for missions of all sizes. We’ve put together a quick guide to several of the key metrics your team should track and analyze, broken down into two key categories:

  1. Donation Metrics
    1. Donation Volume
    2. Donation Size
    3. Donor Acquisition and Retention Rates
  2. Engagement Metrics
    1. Event Attendance
    2. Digital Marketing Engagement

Chances are you’re already taking several (or all) of these metrics into consideration when planning new campaigns. But are you getting all the valuable insights you can from them? As you continue exploring new virtual fundraising ideas in 2021, backing up your plans with data will be essential for ensuring your time and resources go as far as possible. Let’s dive in.

Donation Metrics

Data about your nonprofit’s incoming donations is the most immediately useful metric of your fundraising efforts. Without a clear sense of how you’re performing and who gives to your campaigns, it’s extremely difficult to strategically improve your tactics over time. 

Thankfully, most modern online fundraising tools make it easy to generate reports and automatically integrate with your CRM. But it’s still important to know how to translate that data into actionable intelligence. Let’s walk through a few of the most important donation-related metrics and how they can impact your nonprofit’s strategies.

Donation Volume

Donation volume is the number of individual incoming donations that you see during a given period. This is a baseline metric that all nonprofits should track anyway, since having accurate records of all donations is essential for regulatory, accounting, and basic stewardship reasons.

To get more strategic value from your donation volume data, tie it to specific campaigns and marketing pushes. A quick comparison of the donation volumes of two separate fundraising campaigns is an invaluable starting point for guiding your analysis. 

Let’s say you hosted two similar campaigns this year. The first generated 3,000 individual donations, while the second yielded only 2,000. If you targeted similar audiences over a comparable timeframe using your go-to marketing strategies, you’ll need to find out why the second campaign underperformed. Then, within that campaign, compare the volume of donations generated through different marketing outlets or sources to dig deeper and see exactly where your donations fell off.

Donation Size

The size or amount of individual donations is equally critical to track and study for a few reasons. If your campaigns have specific goals at different giving levels, you need a clear sense of how much you’re receiving from whom. Plus, pursuing major gifts and successfully growing relationships with high-value donors is practically impossible without clear metrics on donation size over time.

The most broadly useful way to put this data into action is to create targeted donor segments based on how much donors typically give to your organization. Then, you can more effectively funnel each segment towards specific next actions. For example:

  • Lower-level donors should be guided toward easy ways to stay engaged. This will help keep your mission on their minds and lead to more successful asks in future campaigns.
  • Mid-level donors might be specifically funneled toward ways to deepen their impact and connection with your mission, like event attendance or leading a P2P fundraising team.
  • High-value donors should be sorted into your broader development and stewardship strategies in order to more personally grow your relationships towards major gift solicitations.

Donation size is an extremely useful metric when it comes to refining your outreach approach and pursuing specific fundraising goals. The exact way that you define low-, mid-, and high-value donors will vary based on your organization’s size and capacity, but the main idea is to give yourself a concrete framework for targeting different donors in valuable ways. 

Donor Acquisition and Retention Rates

These metrics are critical to track over time since they can directly reflect the health of your organization’s bottom line. Here’s how they differ:

  • Donor acquisition rate – the number of brand new donors who make gifts in one campaign versus that same number for previous campaigns.
  • Donor retention rate – the number of existing donors who return to make gifts to your campaigns versus that same number for previous campaigns.

Your CRM should make it easy to quickly calculate your acquisition and retention rates over any timeframe. This is essential for identifying trends that might need immediate attention from one campaign to the next. For example:

  • A high acquisition rate means your outreach strategies are effectively motivating new supporters to get involved. 
  • A poor acquisition rate indicates a downward trend and might mean you’re over-relying on a smaller base of existing support. You’ll need to explore new messaging tactics and marketing outlets if you want to reach and engage new donors. 
  • A high retention rate means your follow-up and messaging strategies are keeping donors engaged over time, and you should look for ways to keep up the trend.
  • A poor retention rate means you can do more to retain the support of existing donors over time. This should immediately inform how you market your next campaign in order to better reach previous donors and remind them of their impact on your mission.

To track and utilize all of these donation metrics, make sure that your donation tool and payment processor automatically associate all incoming transaction data with the right donor profiles, campaigns, and marketing sources. As mentioned above, having accurate and organized records is essential for day-to-day logistics.

Plus, exactly how your data is reported is especially important for staying organized with more complex donor relationships like with recurring donors and members. As we detail in the Soapbox guide to payment processing, your payment processor plays a key role in how recurring transactions are scheduled and therefore reported to your CRM. Think about all of the touchpoints or platforms that contribute to your donation data and double-check that none of them are inadvertently throwing a wrench into your data management strategies.

Engagement Metrics

Engagement metrics illustrate how donors engage with your nonprofit through any marketing channels or communication strategies you employ. While your donation and transaction data will fall under this broader category, it’s important to consider and track all of the ways that donors interact with you that don’t directly generate revenue in the way that donations do. 

Understanding these interactions is especially important in today’s virtual age when digital marketing plays such an outsized role in your success. Let’s walk through a few general examples of engagement metrics and how they can shape your tactics over time:

Virtual Event Attendance

Your nonprofit has almost certainly explored virtual event options in 2020, from formal virtual galas and auctions to more casual online gatherings and discussions. With more competition for your donors’ attention online and more data coming in through digital channels, refining your virtual event strategies to boost engagement is both more critical and easier than ever. 

Attendance is the core metric to break down and analyze when studying the effectiveness of your event strategies. Specifically, you can look at attendance through these lenses:

  • General attendance numbers. Did you attract the number of virtual event attendees that you set out to? How did attendance impact your event’s total revenue?
  • Attendee acquisition. How many new attendees joined your last virtual event versus a previous event? Is your overall acquisition rate for virtual events higher or lower than past in-person events?
  • Attendee retention. How many past attendees registered for your last event versus previous events? Are you seeing more, fewer, or relatively the same number of attendees stick around from one virtual event to another?

Attendance is an excellent starting point for digging deeper into your event’s performance. Try to correlate your attendance numbers with other event engagement markers. 

For instance, the number of bids received and average bids placed per attendee are useful engagement metrics for an online auction. If you see attendees placing many bids and being highly engaged with your auction, how might that relate to your event’s acquisition or retention rates? Did retained attendees or brand new attendees place more bids? Use these insights to improve your next auction and attract more of the high-impact attendees you need.

Attendance trends are also valuable for the more mundane aspects of event planning. With the shift away from in-person events, budgeting appropriately for technology and heavier marketing might be a new grey area for your team. Use your data to more accurately estimate the resources you want and need to allocate for upcoming virtual events. 

Digital Marketing Engagement

Digital marketing has come up a few times so far in this guide, and it’s easy to see why. With virtual engagement being the current norm for most nonprofits, effectively reaching new audiences and keeping past donors engaged is increasingly mission-critical.

As such, your digital marketing strategies must pull their weight. When planning any new fundraising campaign, event, or outreach initiative, look for historical metrics that can reveal insights into how your marketing tactics perform. Here are a few examples:

  • Social media engagement, like “likes” and shares.
  • Website analytics, including clickthrough rates, bounce rates, and conversion rates on your campaign landing pages.
  • Traffic volume and engagement by marketing channel.

Studying these types of digital engagement metrics will help you identify where your marketing campaigns are succeeding, where they’re falling flat, and how they can go further. Since this is a fairly broad category in itself, there are a variety of ways that you can source and track this data. Email and social media marketing software should automatically track and report analytics like these, and Google Analytics is a must-have for measuring engagement on your website.

Digital engagement markers are helpful for more than just strengthening your marketing efforts. When supporters are highly engaged with your organization online, you can use that information to help guide your stewardship processes, as well. For instance, a mid-level donor who gives regularly and shares your Facebook posts demonstrates a promising affinity to give and might make a great candidate for further cultivation and personalized relationship-building. 

Generating Your Fundraising Data

In order to put all of these tips into action, your technology should actively make it easier to compile, filter, and analyze your wealth of data. Integrated systems are a must-have, meaning any tools that generate donation or engagement data should automatically report it to a central location, your database or CRM.

This is why cloud-based, highly customizable CRMs have become such popular options for nonprofits in recent years. Salesforce is the most widely-used example, but newer offerings from Microsoft are picking up steam, as well. Explore the Soapbox guide to Microsoft Dynamics 365 for an overview of this exciting new platform.

These types of CRMs make it easy to ensure your data is reported and configured exactly how you need it through open-source codes and pre-made integrated apps. For instance, the Salesforce app ecosystem includes practically any tool that nonprofits might need, all of which are designed to work seamlessly with the underlying CRM.

Overall, it’s a good idea to make sure that any software you use to engage supporters integrates with your CRM. Even niche platforms offer full ranges of integrations today. For instance, arts and culture organizations using Tessitura can easily integrate the CRM with DonorSearch in order to conduct prospect research within one system (rather than manually gathering insights across multiple sources).

With data flowing in from all directions, your organization will be in a much stronger position to refine your strategies, engage more supporters, and host more effective events in 2021.

About the Author

Ryan Ozimek, Co-Founder, Soapbox Engage

As the founder of a software company serving the public sector, Ryan is passionate about empowering organizations to “do good”.  With a focus on effective and efficient technology solutions, he’s constantly looking for ways in which the Internet can better serve the greater good, and more specifically the non-profit sector.  He leads up the Soapbox Engage team in our pursuit of affordable and accidental techie-friendly online engagement software, is a Salesforce MVP, and leads the NPSP Days around the world.  Ryan has a bachelor’s degree in communications from UCLA, and a masters of public policy from UCLA’s School of Public Affairs.  He’s also a fan of burritos, so if you have any tips to finding the best taqueria in the world, let him know.

Data-Driven Fundraising 101: Critical Metrics to Track