5 Things You Need to Know about Nonprofits + Big Data

March 18, 2018 | EveryAction Team

To find out more about how nonprofits are using (or not using) their data to do more good, we asked over 460 nonprofit professionals about their habits, culture, and outlook on the state of data at their organizations.

This week, we released the survey results + invited Randy Hawthorne, Executive Director and wearer of many hats at Nonprofit Hub, for a conversation about the data and findings we gathered.

1. Most nonprofits are collecting data, few know what to do with it

It seems the wave of “big data” has finally extended across the nonprofit sector, but realizing its benefits is taking a little longer to catch on.

While the vast majority of respondents (90 percent) indicate their organizations are collecting data, almost half say they aren’t fully aware of the ways data can (and does) impact their work. 

This makes sense, especially considering that almost two-thirds reported not having a specific staff member dedicated to data management. 

The bad news comes when we look at how nonprofits are applying what they’re learning to their decision-making. In contrast with the overwhelming majority that believe in its value, only 5 percent of respondents say their decisions are always driven by data.

2. Time is a factor + it’s holding nonprofits back

It should come as no surprise that nonprofit professionals point to time and personnel constraints as the main reason they aren’t fully utilizing their data. 

Interestingly, one of the most telling insights relating to time limitations comes when we look at how respondents say they store data: 46 percent revealed that their data is spread across multiple systems and software platforms—it’s no wonder they feel crunched for time!

Unfortunately, this trend persists years into the big data trend hitting the nonprofit sector, despite the fact that a whopping 97 percent of those we surveyed said they were interested in learning more about data and how to use it effectively.

3. Email + donors get the most data love

When they are taking advantage of their data, nonprofits seem to rely on it most when it comes to their email and donor databases.

Over half of those surveyed indicate they use software to collect and analyze data as part of their email programs and donor management processes.

This shows nonprofits are finally getting wise to how data can, for example, help them test the effectiveness of a welcome email series and segment their lists for targeted messaging.

While this is encouraging on the one hand, only a quarter of respondents say they collect data for their major gifts programs and even less for planned giving and volunteer management.

4. Most nonprofit pros believe data is strategically important, barely any think they’re using it effectively

Data alone doesn’t offer the most value for nonprofits; it’s the ability to analyze your data to make smarter decisions that really gives you an edge.

And while the majority of nonprofit professionals we asked (87 percent) believe data to be at least moderately important to operations at their organization, a mere 6 percent feel confident that the data at their disposal is being used effectively.

The implications of this have a very real impact on how nonprofits do everything. If an organization is collecting and tracking data related to website optimization (less than a third are), it’s then better able to understand user behavior, namely on donation pages.

And considering the fact that a.) your website is one of the first places potential supporters are introduced to your nonprofit, b.) nonprofit donation pages tend to suck, and c.) higher donation page conversions equals more dollars raised, not using data to optimize your website could actually be costing your organization money.

5. Nonprofits aren’t feeling the love from their software

Most of the nonprofit pros we surveyed work at small organizations, and about half believe they’re taking advantage of data… sometimes.

A full 40 percent say they’ve received very little training on their software, and only 5 percent believe they’re fully utilizing the data they collect.

It’s no wonder, then, that over 30 percent of respondents would not recommend their nonprofit software to another organization. There are likely many factors that contribute here (user-friendliness, cost, integrations, etc.), but the ultimate result shows nonprofits may be wasting the little time and resources they have to dedicate to data on software that isn’t working for them.

The question is: shouldn’t nonprofits love their tools? The answer: we think so.

In conclusion, the state of data in the nonprofit sector is undeniably strong; it’s the practices and culture at organizations that are still catching up.