Make your organizational data easy to digest

dataFor the last few decades, the non-profit sector has been focused on data in an effort to convince donors to continue their philanthropic support. I still remember being a new executive director sitting in my first United Way meeting and learning about constructing logic models and differentiating between inputs, outputs, outcomes and pre- and post-test survey tools. All of this was piled on top of a slew of other data metrics my national office was asking for such as:

  • overall organizational membership
  • average daily attendance
  • member demographics (e.g. gender, age, ethnicity, zip code, household income, etc)
  • employee turnover
  • how many members attended 52 days or more per year compared to 105 days
  • And on and on and on (seriously, the report was 35 pages long)

While I understood information was powerful, especially with regards to management and decision-making, it was mind-numbing to me the first time I heard someone advocate for total transparency by sharing all of this data with donors.
My immediate reaction was:

  1. Of course, donors have the right to see what their investment is producing!
  2. But seriously . . . isn’t a data dump via the annual report, website, newsletter, impact reports, etc. counterproductive and confusing for donors?

From that starting point in the Spring of 2000, I began my journey and life-long struggle with becoming a donor-centered fundraising professional.
I must confess this quest for the holy grail of perfect donor communications is ongoing.
For the last few days, I’ve been preparing for next week’s Boys & Girls Clubs of America National Conference in New Orleans. In addition to beautifying my exhibitor booth, I’m refreshing The Healthy Non-Profit‘s marketing materials. In the process of doing this, I decided to take a stab at producing a few infographics related to some of the services I am trying to highlight.
I recently got bit by the infographic bug because two of my capital campaign clients are really good at using these tools. I just love how easy they make it look. I also became a fan after I started researching why these communication tools are so effective.
Check out the following cute infographic that helps make the case (Source: CopyBlogger post titled “25 Ideas to Transform Ho-Hum Infographics into Something Extraordinary,” written by Barry Feldman):
As I set out to create my first few infographic handouts for my conference booth, I must admit it wasn’t easy. However, I found a few great online resources that helped me get over those first few hurdles. In the spirit of collaboration, I thought I should share:

It has been a while since I’ve served on the front line of a non-profit organization. I’m sure online tools like these are now more common. What does your organization use to distill its data and information into easy-to-digest, bite-size donor communications pieces? Please scroll down to the comment box and share your thoughts and experiences. We can all learn from each other.
Oh wait . . . before you leave . . . it is important to note that there are some very smart fundraising professionals and bloggers who are NOT on the bus when it comes to sharing data with donors during the solicitation stage of the resource development process. While they typically agree on the importance of collecting data for data-driven decision-making, they stop short of sharing it with donors because philanthropy is an “emotional” act and not “logical.” I find these arguments compelling and lean towards storytelling as a fundraising tactic, but I still see infographics as powerful stewardship tools.
Heck, I tend to waffle on this issue. So, I’m interested to hear what you think.
Here’s to your health!
Erik Anderson
Founder & President, The Healthy Non-Profit LLC!/eanderson847

Outcome measurement madness

Today’s DonorDreams post is from a guest blogger, Rose Reinert. Rose is a young non-profit professional who happily serves in the trenches and grapples with our sector’s newest challenges as they relate to data, impact, and program outcomes. When it comes to data systems, she has experience with membership management databases, financial management software, donor databases, and program outcomes measurement systems.

Outcome measurement madness

By Rose Reinert

In a former life, I served as an Executive Director of a youth serving organization. As you can imagine, as in any non-profit, the heat was on illustrating short-term and long-term impact. These efforts, of course, were to show that we were fulfilling our mission of preparing young people to be contributing citizens. Unfortunately, more often than not, we focused on short-term impact in order to keep funders and donors engaged and happy so they would renew their investment.

lotsofdata1One of those funders, who I would work at keeping happy with their investment of money and time, was my board of directors. I used to love packing my board book with tons of statistics “showing” our hard work. I would use pretty graphs and pie charts, comparisons from the previous year, week, minute.

I was so proud of those thick board packets!

Now, the tables have turned and I serve on a board of directors for another area non-profit. In a recent board meeting, as I was overwhelmed with pages of statistics I sat thinking, “So what! What does this all mean?

Oh the irony!

When I was leading my organization, we used to measure anything that moved. We were swimming in pre- and post-tests. By the time we closed out one session, we were at it again with pre-testing.

There were days, amongst the insanity, where I would have moments of clarity. I realized how many opportunities had been lost. We were caught up in the “Outcome Measurement madness“. We lost opportunities to truly, without defense, use the data to assess how we were doing and if we were moving the needle.

What would happen if we got off the hamster wheel and took a step back? What questions could we ask about our outcome measurement strategy?

One great tool that I found to help re-frame and create a strategy is a publication titled Intermediary Development Series: Measuring Outcomes at

lotsofdata2If you are just starting or if you could use a fresh look, these questions can help:

  • Where should we focus?
  • What do we want to accomplish?
  • Who is on the team, and how do we involve others in organization?
  • What resources will you need?
  • Do we need additional help?
  • What is our timeline?

Taking a step back to reframe, or create a strategy to ensure that we are measuring what matters is critical. There is no escape from outcome measurement, and there shouldn’t be. Data is critical; it guides decisions, informs investors, and points out areas for improvement. However, you can measure a lot and still have no clue.

How have you found clarity in the outcome measurement madness? How does your organization involve all levels in developing the strategy and executing it? How do you share your data with stakeholders?  Please share your experiences in the comment box below.
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