How to Leverage Organized Data for Engagement and Retention

When you see the word ‘data’ are you instantly intimidated by the overwhelming amount of …data...that the word, data brings to the table?

For the purposes of this article, let’s all assume to be on the same page about how data is an intimidating topic. If you read my previous article Backpacking Through a Website you know how much I enjoy an extended metaphor, data makes me think of a big ball of holiday lights.

I’m not quite sure how many strings of lights are in that ball, how long they’ve been there or if they even work. What I do know is that when the lights are untangled and used it can be a beautiful thing (this is not an accurate representation of my house decorating skills). Even more so when you pack those lights back up if done in an organized way, even better for next season!

In a previous article written by one of the technical geniuses here, How Can NonProfits Monetize Their Data there is more focused conversation going on about analysis, however, the main topic of data (data everywhere! data all the time!) even in 2014 remains the same today:

People create data everyday. Whether you keep track of your members' information in spreadsheets or in CRMs, most organizations collect large amounts of data. As more people use social media to communicate and new social media channels keep appearing, there's also A LOT of unstructured data.

When I’m introducing myself to something unfamiliar I like to really understand the definitions of what I’m taking into consideration. In this instance, we are going to discuss the benefits of structured and organized data, so let’s take a look at what unstructured, and disorganized mean (according to

Unstructured (adj) Lacking a clearly defined structure or organization.

Disorganized (adj) It means something that is not properly planned and controlled.

Now let’s put this into context...

Unstructured data is information that either does not have a predefined data model or is not organized in a predefined manner.

Disorganized data, on the other hand, has an underlying structure but cannot be mined effectively in its current messy condition.

What I’m thinking now that we know these definitions is, that first of all and admittedly, understanding data, (warning: buzz words coming…) predictive analytics, anticipatory intelligence is what? It’s confusing and time-consuming. It’s also probably not top of your importance list on a day to day basis. You may or may not have any idea what kind of data is flowing through your website, how to find it, what to do with it and how to organize or structure it in a way that allows you benefit from it.

Even my head is spinning so before you throw your hands up in the air and decide you don’t have the time to understand this, let’s take a shallow dive (I leave the deep dives to our technical geniuses here) into how we can use our data when it’s organized and structured.

Website Data - Google Analytics

Starting with the most obvious source for data...your website! Looking at the Google Analytics dashboard can look like a set of jumbled holiday lights all on its may be tempted to ignore it and continue spreading the word about your organization and mission via email, snail mail, Rolodex…(crickets…)

Google Analytics is great, it basically gives you everything you need to understand how your website is performing, in every way imaginable. They have their structured and organized data down to a literal science (including behavioral). Let’s take a look at what I think are the top three analytics that will help your organization focus change in an impactful way on the web.


  1. Website Traffic - generally speaking looking at your traffic will indicate if your website is growing, declining or stagnating. Imagine tracking your traffic after a big push on social media, did your website see a spike in traffic or was it stagnant?
  2. Bounce Rate - if you notice a lot of traffic, that’s great! Your next step is to verify how long that visitor lasted on your website before bouncing off.
  3. Top Pages - Knowing what your top pages are is important because it gives you real world snapshot of what your audience most responds to.


Donation Forms - Boost Conversions

There is a ton of information you can gather from your current donation form and probably an equal amount of improvements that can be made to boost conversions. This is immensely important to look at if your organization struggles to meet fundraising goals.

Donation forms can get long or and scare potential donors away, especially if the form looks like something you’ve pulled out of a box and sloppily added onto your website without extra consideration (I know we're all busy, it needs to be there, out-of-the-box works fine...well, I guess but not entirely). Branding is important, messaging is important and together they can be very powerful.

With the information, you have from your website analytics, and more obvious data collection from a potential struggle to meet fundraising goals, here are my top three tactics for boosting conversions from your donation form:

  1. Branding - Customize your donation form so it matches your brand and messaging.
  2. Donation Suggestions - Give your donors options for amounts, leaving an empty text field leaves the donor conflicted, not knowing what to contribute.
  3. Explanations - Explain how you use donor funds, not only does this tie into your branding and messaging, but it gives your donors that much-needed bit of comfort before they submit to contribute.

Hopefully, after you’ve read these few tips you are wishing there was more information here to keep that data conversation going. I am kind of feeling this way myself, if using data can help your organization be more impactful (and it does) then there are probably a ton of health benefits associated with untangled holiday lights. In fact, if you're curious personal organization is a stress reliever and time saver ;) It's possible I grab my big ball of holiday lights and attempt to untangle them (not to hang them, let’s not go too far, baby steps) and see how many are even there!

Nonprofits understand the important role of data in making sure their programs are effective and in securing funding for their services. Today and going forward, data will be even more essential to nonprofits as funders and prominent charity evaluators are beginning to require that they report outcomes, and the real impact they are having, not just how many are being served. – Tina Weinfurther, President and CEO CNM Connect

Whoa, you thought I was ending my article, what’s up with that quote I’ve injected above? We're not quite done yet; essentially what Tina is saying is that - you’re a nonprofit and not only are you functioning off of the generosity of donors but how impactful is your organization and is it worth it to continue. WOW.

Let's think about what Tina is saying, she isn't wrong. There are a tremendous amount of ways you can use data to pull your organization out of a rut or pump new life into a program that you know is struggling...the numbers provide you with hard facts.

So, before I end this article I want to highlight one of our clients that are using their member and non-member data to refine and offer more on their website; American Public Gardens Association.

The American Public Gardens Association, once you’ve taken a look at what they do - it’s a lot! And who knew there were so many gardens and so much information out there for researchers, gardeners, horticulturists, etc. Take a look at how through collaboration with BackOffice Thinkers they’ve made it easy for any of these professionals to find information relevant to them with a "Find Your Specialty" landing page.

With this landing page, they can use Google Analytics and subscription data to find out how much traffic goes to this page, and each of the landing pages associated with it in order to better facilitate their efforts with upcoming events, trainings, articles and other useful information.

Remember what this does for the Association. Not only does this help them stay relevant, but it helps retain members and engage non-members.

Data can be an invaluable asset when it is structured and organized. Data should be able to answer the questions you have about campaign performance, donor lifecycles and more importantly inform critical business decisions for the entire organization.

I’m pretty sure that you’d rather your website and organization get the attention, donations, and contributions it definitely deserves to have. Remember at the beginning of this article I wrote out the definitions to a few words, my guess is the situation a lot of you are in falls within “disorganized data” and that’s ok! Hey, at least you have something (Charlie Brown Christmas tree…?) let’s work together to help you organize that data and leverage it so you can focus on your mission, outreach, and organization...That sounds a lot like the BackOffice Thinking mission statement, pretty close.

We focus on your technology so you can focus on your mission.

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