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5 Ways Your Nonprofit Can Get the Most Out of Data


By Terri Harel

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Kerry Vineberg is Marketing Associate at Exponent Partners, a mission-based technology consulting firm and B Corp that helps nonprofits use information technology to carry out their missions more effectively. She blogs at exponentpartners.com about nonprofit technology, mission management, and CRMs, and uses Salesforce daily in her work.

Get a Hold of Your Nonprofit’s Data

These days, data (and how to measure it) is a hot topic, and rightly so. Properly collecting and analyzing data about your constituents, your donors, and your outcomes can help you build the case for funding and go further in your mission. But are you managing your data as effectively as you could be?

A few years ago, senior staff at New Leaders were spending up to six hours weekly exporting and preparing data for analysis. This took away valuable time from their work developing educators into transformational school leaders, from principals to district managers.

The Council on Accreditation (COA) requires copious documentation in their work, which involves accrediting over 2,000 child, family service and behavioral healthcare organizations worldwide. Before their current solution, Timothy Stockert, COA’s Director of IT, described their office: “You were sometimes afraid to walk down a hallway for fear that a box would fall on top of you.”

Sound familiar?

Take Your Processes From Zero to Hero

In our line of work, we encounter a lot of nonprofits burning the candle at both ends to track and process their data while still keeping up with programs and operations.

We’ve also seen Customer Relationship Management technology (CRM) dramatically improve their capacity and results. Today we’re shining the spotlight on some ways nonprofits like COA and New Leaders are using these systems to collect and report on their data, all while increasing its accuracy and completeness.

5 Ways to Manage Data Better

1. Report Dynamically

New Leaders (mentioned above) now uses a custom application management system. Recruiting, receiving, and processing applications, as well as tracking principal/school performance, are now integrated. Thus, their application and program data is consolidated within one up-to-date system.

With their new CRM reporting functionality, staff can generate dynamic reports from this data in minutes, where the static reports once took hours to manually compile! These reports, based off richer, more accurate information, help staff make strategic recruiting decisions.

2. Record Data Digitally with Portals

COA (also mentioned above) adopted a CRM as well, but use it rather differently. They use custom-built portals (one for volunteers and one for organizations) which feed into their central database.

The portals allow COA’s constituents to manage data and perform tasks for their specific roles, including: fill out an application, upload documents for the self-study process, rate an organization’s standards, sign up for training, communicate with COA staff, and more. Because all of these processes send information directly into their system, COA has virtually eliminated their paper-based data tasks!

3. Build Algorithms to Perform Data Calculations in Real-time

OneGoal needed complex data calculations to aid their work: leading underperforming high school students to graduate from college. Previously, program directors plotted students’ ACT scores against their GPAs in a time-consuming manual calculation which produced a student’s “selectivity” rating (used to determine best-fit colleges). If incorrect, a student was at risk of not applying to the right schools.

Now, OneGoal has their CRM configured to calculate these scores in real-time as new GPAs or ACT scores come in, saving time and increasing accuracy.

4. Simplify Workflow

Phipps Neighborhoods uses a CRM to streamline case management for their diverse programs supporting children and families in overcoming poverty.

Instead of their original two-form process, Phipps’ system offers one intake form that includes general agency intake and program-specific questions. Staff members save time by filling out a single form per client and saving that data immediately within their system. The improved data has led to greater transparency, as well as accountability for program results.

5. Provide Access to Program Data Organization-Wide

Bancroft, which serves individuals with autism, traumatic brain injuries, or developmental disabilities, previously had siloed data across programs and systems. Communication between departments was a bottleneck to workflow, and departments couldn’t always trust that information was complete and up-to-date.

Bancroft now utilizes a CRM for organizational data, and centralized access has strengthened the performance of multiple departments. Admissions can consolidate, share, and manage data. The executive team can review high-level admissions and referrals, and deploy resources strategically. Marketing can report and target communications more effectively with a view of their funding mix across different programs. Program staff are better informed on vacancies available for clients, helping the organization achieve maximum utilization.

Tips to Steal their Success

No matter the work your organization does, a CRM can help you manage data needs and free up capacity for your mission. Salesforce is one example of a system that is powerful enough to give you all of the functionality mentioned here. Here are a few quick tips to use a CRM like Salesforce to measure and manage data at your organization:

  • Set up reports to email you daily, weekly, or monthly. For example, you can have a report automatically emailed to you with a list of recent volunteer inquiries, or pending applications. These can keep you informed on different aspects of your programs
  • Set up charts in your reports or dashboards to visualize your data more easily. This can help you quickly view useful summaries from campaigns or donations
  • Give constituents access to maintain their data either through a web form or an online community such as Salesforce Communities. This pushes some of the day-to-day maintenance back to each constituent
  • Take advantage of workflow rules to automate your processes by changing the status of a record automatically based on other changes
  • If a standard report doesn’t meet your needs, talk to your implementation partner about how to set up a custom report. This could save you time if, for example, you often analyze data in a specific way for a funder

The implications for productivity through more effective data management and reporting are vast. You could even begin a culture of greater data transparency within your organization.

Timothy Stockert of COA notes that, because of their CRM-integrated portals for constituents, “everyone is more accountable to [our] data now because they know it will be public and shared with the organization.”

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