Non-Profit Growth and Developing A Data Culture Strategy

Non-Profit Growth and Developing A Data Culture Strategy






The development of a data culture in non-profit organizations is critical to their mission and vision.  Now, however, data culture is required for survival and sustainability.  Over the next 15 years, we see a couple of factors that support this thesis.

One, regardless of government leadership changes, we have witnessed that our government is mostly static except where debt policy is concerned.  Special interest groups, corporate lobbyists, and highly-funded candidates for office limit the policy changes.   The politicians that govern have little time to truly impact government policy rapidly.

Two, the corporate scale has become limited, in general, to the largest companies and the tech sector.  Thus, funds available to disperse to nonprofit missions, in general, decrease particularly to smaller non-profits.

Therefore, non-profit organizations must shift from a purely mission-centric strategy by infusing a culture that drives the mission with the data-driven policy in operations and funding outreach.


What is Being a Data-Driven Non-Profit Look Like?

First, decision-making shifts from decision making based on historical data to decisions generated from predictive outcomes.  To migrate an organization to this paradigm shift, the leadership must develop its initial strategy to install the right data information system that generates these predicative outcome data points.  Using a system like Salesforce is one of the fastest mechanisms for a non-profit to transition to a data-driven culture.  Why?  Salesforce provides the Enterprise Edition to all qualified non-profits for no cost to the first 10 licenses and deep discounts thereafter for all product licenses.  This CRM jumpstarts leadership to a low-cost start.  Working with a certified partner like White Rock also holds costs down as we deliver our solutions to non-profits at a fifty percent discount to follow suit with Salesforce.

Second, invoking a Salesforce CRM as the spearhead of the data systems enables quick integration to other systems such as marketing and accounting systems.  Non-profits rapidly advanced their ability to transition to a data culture when all data points relate to the key stakeholders, donors, and other interested people and organizations.  Therefore, a data-driven non-profit looks like an organization that supports its mission with two simple, strategic steps to enable decisions toward predictive outcomes.  In other words, make this decision fast, make it simple, so that it is effective sooner than later.


3 Key Steps to Make Your Non-Profit Data-Driven

When your organization has set the data platform, what is next?  The idea is to allow your team to go from “I think” to “I know”.  As previously mentioned, looking back at historical information shows the leaders how decisions made created past outcomes.  However, would last year’s campaign schedule for donors be the proper campaign for 2020 given the pandemic?  Are those donors prepared to donate in the same manner this year versus last year?  Is the message the same?  Not only will all of that be different but the outcomes will be different.  You need a model that will support the “I know” model more effectively and better each year moving forward. 


  • Make Your Data Transparent and Accessible

If your nonprofit’s data is guarded and hidden from your staff, it can derail your efforts to become data-driven before you even begin. So, be transparent and make your data easily available for your team. This includes everything from donor-centered metrics to financials on your nonprofit itself.

Beyond a weekly email, there are many other ways you can be transparent with your data, like:

  • Creating dashboards where people can track months, or even years, worth of data
  • Hosting quarterly review meetings to discuss and dissect your data
  • Encouraging individuals or teams to run data-centered growth tests and share their results with everyone

Transparency, while important, is only half of the equation though. You still need to empower your team to act on this data by equipping them with the right tools like Salesforce NPSP.  For example, the person in charge of your online fundraising can use Salesforce to run detailed reports on campaign data and draw insights about its performance that inform future campaign strategies.

Similarly, your development director can Salesforce to organize all your incoming data and provide structure to the noise. Further, your marketing team may use email automation tools that give you detailed metrics on things like open and click-through rates.  Having a system like Salesforce also enables policy around data quality and data integrity.  Where policy and system come together to help manage the data for accuracy, leadership must understand that the data is a key asset and managed like an asset for returns.

Salesforce allows you to sift through the mounds of data you will collect. This tool will help you communicate crucial information to your entire team about where you have been, where you are, and where you want to go.  Where you want to go is the “I know” to a data-driven culture.


  • Focus on Actionable Metrics

As you and your team progress, avoid the overwhelming tendency to panic when data volume increases. The key here is to not focus on everything.  Instead, study the metrics which will help improve the performance of your nonprofit as a whole or the individual departments within.

Keep your team concentrated on actionable metrics that provide context to help your organization change behavior and improve performance. Try to avoid vanity metrics, which often lack the context needed to grow your nonprofit.  Here is a quick example to help illustrate:

Vanity Metric: The total number of people who clicked “like” on your nonprofit video posted to Facebook

Actionable Metric: The average amount of time people spent watching your video

The vanity metric here fails to tell you anything of importance: 

  • Did these people only “like” the post, or did they share it?
  • How much of the video did they watch?
  • Are they interested in your message, or did they simply click “like” because it came across their feed?

The actionable metric here, by contrast, gives you a keen sense of success. You know, with certainty, how long people spent watching your video.

If the average engagement time is 50 seconds, but your video was 90 seconds, you can apply that learning moving forward. Your team can aim to have the next video you produce to be 50 seconds or less to ensure maximum audience engagement.  Thus, tracking actionable metrics shows you what works and what does not. From there, you know if you should double down on your tactics or pivot direction.


  • Hire the Right People

Not every employee you bring on to your team will have the analytical training of an engineer, but that does not mean they cannot appreciate and use actionable data in their distinct role. The right person, regardless of function, will understand how crucial data is to your nonprofit’s success.

As you build your data-centric mindset, take the time to also build a data-centric team. A few potential indicators in a prospective hire might be that they have:

  • An inquisitive and curious nature
  • The ability to recognize trends and find the root causes behind those trends
  • A decisive attitude that allows them to draw conclusions and a course of action

Once you have got the right team, it is important to foster an environment where they can develop into stronger data-driven professionals. The culture you create is paramount to your success. Here are three simple things you can do to keep data on everyone’s mind:

  • Always demand some quantitative analysis to back up assertions from your team
  • Reward people for creating and testing hypotheses before jumping into something head-on
  • Allow people to select the key metrics they want to track

Creating a data-driven culture in your organization is not something that will happen overnight. It takes time, patience, and a lot of reflection to figure out what is working and what is not. And along the way do not be afraid to ask your team for feedback.

If you are looking to take your data-driven mindset further than ever before, or get the engine started for the first time, please do not hesitate to contact us.  We have a great “getting started” program that will help you walk before you run.