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Defining and Mobilizing Nonprofit Data Activation

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Published May 29, 2024 Reading Time: 4 minutes

This blog was written in collaboration with Ignacio Iglesias, Senior Data Scientist at Classy, and Alexandra Wilson, Manager of Business Intelligence at Classy.

Over the past few months, Classy’s Data Science and Analytics team has published a series of in-depth articles on our data intelligence approach.

First, we pinpointed some frequent pitfalls in data handling. We highlighted the importance of embracing a modern data stack approach as a key to facing new and ever-changing data ecosystem challenges.

Then, we uncovered the build vs. buy trade-off. We surfaced the importance of having no-code tools for nontechnical stakeholders, like nonprofit marketing teams, to save time on manual efforts, lower overhead costs, and accelerate the time to insights.

Our third article focused on the importance of securing a single source of truth, especially when integrating multiple sources of data. Finally, we covered how to turn raw data into a highly curated dataset, also known as data curation, from which nonprofits can draw trustworthy insights efficiently to fuel data-driven decisions.

Now that we’ve cleansed, curated, unified, and analyzed the data, we’ve arrived at the final step in our journey: data activation.

Defining Data Activation

Data activation provides the framework for organizations to obtain value from donor data. It involves deriving key insights that guide decision-making and shape an organization’s strategic direction.

From abstracting raw data to shaping milestones, data activation represents tangible solutions that can impact fundraising, marketing efforts, and nonprofit operations.

Before we dive into its application, let’s outline the differences in data collection, curation, and activation.

Data Collection

Many organizations are leveraging the power of the modern data stack to collect data efficiently. The abundance of tools at their disposal can generate vast amounts of insights, yet without curation and activation, this data can end up causing more noise than delivering value.

Data Curation

Analysts must connect the dots between disparate data sources and ensure the data are clean, consistent, and sustainable so the organization can transform raw data from chaos into meaningful insights.

See what tools we use at Classy to streamline our operation in our recent blog, How to Streamline Your Nonprofit’s Donor Data Pipeline.

Data Activation

At this stage, the data is ready for use and can take the form of business intelligence, inputs for machine learning and AI applications, or organizational workflow optimization.

3 Ways to Leverage Data Activation for Optimal Impact

Once the donor data is ready to be put to work, you can use it in various impactful ways. Here are a few examples of how data activation can provide a more personalized experience for your audience segments.

Develop Detailed Donor Profiles

Develop a 360-degree view of donors at various touchpoints. This can include donation history, volunteer involvement, event registration, and communication preferences.

Integrating donor data into a centralized repository will enable your organization to build a more holistic view of supporter preferences and behavior. With a comprehensive dataset, you can start to identify donor patterns, such as common donation amounts, high-level engagement campaigns, and seasonal organization-specific trends.

Deliver Personalized Content

Once you’ve begun unifying donor data sources, start segmenting your target audience based on similar characteristics. Segmentation can center on various factors, such as special interests, donation size, and recurring engagement.

With your segments established, you can begin tailoring your marketing strategies to deliver a more personalized experience.

Improve Operation Workflows

Improve internal workflows to significantly enhance your engagement with donors, even if the changes that result from donor data activation work you’re prioritizing aren’t directly visible to them.

Through the power of reverse ETL (extract, transform, and load), organizations’ data teams can streamline their internal processes, reducing manual efforts and data entry. This will help you identify which processes in your organization are manual constraints and leverage automation tools to expedite them.

Data Activation in Action

Let’s look at an example of data activation in marketing campaigns.

Engaging fundraisers for an upcoming peer-to-peer initiative can be challenging. It involves aligning diverse motivations and personal connections to your cause, which vary widely among donors. Additionally, managing and supporting these fundraisers requires organizational resources and materials for ongoing outreach.

Instead of trying several different strategies and hoping for engagement, data activation can streamline your efforts by focusing on the most promising targets.

5 Steps to Activate Donor Data at Your Nonprofit

Now that we’ve walked through the process, let’s outline the steps to activate your insights.

Step 1: Define Top-Level Organizational Goals

Before using donor data, clearly define your organization’s goals and complementary strategies for the time frame. Ensure these goals are actionable, aligned with your strategy, and measurable. Insights aren’t curious facts about donor data but serve a concrete purpose.

Step 2: Develop a Data Management Strategy

You’ve successfully defined your top-level goals but soon realize there’s no way to track their progress. No need to worry, though—you can tailor your goals along the way.

Centralizing data, identifying blockers, and establishing data best practices will start to build a layer of data transparency within your organization.

Additionally, unifying data in a centralized data management platform will not only provide a more holistic view of your organization’s operations to stakeholders but will also provide greater access controls for ensuring your adherence to data standardization and governance procedures. Then, whether you decide to buy or build your tools, the choice is yours.

Step 3: Create a Tracking Plan

It’s also crucial to strive for continuous improvement and establish methods for tracking progress. This can take various forms, including a spreadsheet with monthly reporting on your metrics, a dashboard for real-time updates, or share-outs with quarterly organizational progress.

While goals can change throughout the course, consistency in tracking is most important for sustainable and reportable outcomes.

Step 4: Establish a Training Culture

Internal teams need to understand how their efforts impact progress for your organization to meet its goals.

Foster a culture of continuous improvement by having stakeholders across internal teams train at a scheduled cadence. Provide ongoing training sessions to ensure proficiency with data tools and encourage cross-functional knowledge-sharing. This approach empowers your team to use data effectively in their daily tasks, establish a data-driven mindset, and contribute to the organization’s overall success, all of which tie back to the health of donor data quality.

Step 5: Bake in Feedback Loops

If you’ve ever worked with data, you understand that interpretation is in the nuances. Implement feedback loops to assess all data practices continually and ensure their relevance to your organizational goals and use cases. Cross-functional collaboration is key to understanding the intricacies of data interpretation and its application.

This iterative process helps maintain agility, keeps your organization responsive to changing needs, and ensures that all donor data-driven strategies align with timely priorities.

Do More with the Right Fundraising Technology

Classy is committed to helping nonprofits operationalize donor data strategies, regardless of their stage of data maturity. By sharing these steps, we hope to help your organization enhance donor engagement, streamline operations, make informed decisions, and achieve greater fundraising success. Together, we can create a more impactful future for your nonprofit.

Copy Editor: Ayanna Julien

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The Essential Role of a Modern Data Stack in Nonprofit Giving

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