Mission Control to nonprofits… are you ready to blast off into a brave, new world of fundraising data collection? These 10 tips brought to you by our guest bloggers, the DonorPath fundraising experts, will fuel your start.

10. First, the moon.

Start with a goal. Are you trying to find out if your donors respond well to personal stories or how your annual fund is doing after a rebranding strategy? Know this first. If you don’t know what you’re trying to learn, you will succeed in not learning it.

9. Fly high or crash

If your goal is the sky, your metric is the rocket ship. It will tell you if you’re on track or if you’re aiming for Poughkeepsie. Good metrics include donor lifetime value, response rate, and average time on website. Pick one for your journey. And remember, the best metrics speak across platforms and departments.

8. Don’t take a canoe to the moon

Your metric should match your goal. If you want to know if your event is engaging potential donors, your metric is not $ raised from the event. It could be $ raised from new donors, # of new on-site sign-ups or # of post-event website sign-ups.

7. Find another cosmonaut

If you can, bring someone (or a team of someones from across your organization) to join. They bring another perspective and may have access to other data sources in the organization. Many of the biggest data problems are solved by productive, pre-project conversations with all stakeholders.

6. Use the rocket you have lying around your backyard

You may wish you have a NASA-built craft of big data, but you can still go to the moon in an airtight garbage can with boosters. Use the data in your database, from your website, from your survey software, and those paper forms from your last event.

5. If you build it…then you’ll have it

Databases are not magic machines and data is not a flying carpet. If you want to dive into analytics, track the data you get. Create fields for information you’re not tracking, enter everything from your donation slips, and put in demographic data from surveys. This will be your rocket fuel.

4. Test, test, test

If you’re not learning, you’re leaking rocket fuel. Test one scenario/campaign and keep everything else the same (find tips on split testing here). This is not the time to find out if your donors also like purple or green envelopes.

3. Take shortcuts

Many of us cannot afford to test all the things we would like. Fortunately, you don’t have to reinvent the rocket – others have been to the moon and are willing to write about it. Read about best practices from sources you trust and put them to use.

2. Make repairs to your rocket ship while in orbit

Use what you learn from your tests to make changes as you go along. If your planned giving brochure with pictures of students works better than the one with pictures of older couples walking through a meadow, use it in your next communication.

1. Write a travelogue

When your journey is over, write it up. Make sure you capture both quantitative (numbers) and qualitative (words) data. This will help others to understand your journey and you to remember what you learned when you embark on your next trip.

Enjoy the journey!

If you want to shoot for the moon, powered by fundraising data, but don’t know where to start, you can learn about how DonorPath matches you with a fundraising expert to help you learn to aim for the stars.

Meet the Authors:


Elizabeth Finlayson

Elizabeth Finlayson, “your professional non-profit mentor”, is a fundraising consultant and personal coach. With 12 years of experience at small and large nonprofits, she has a passion for helping organizations develop new fundraising programs and early-career and sector-transitioning professionals navigate the rocky waters of non-profit life. With her background as a professional actor, she facilitates workshops on a variety of topics.


Keidra Chaney

Keidra Chaney

Keidra Chaney is a digital content strategist, analytics consultant and founder of The Learned Fangirl, a blog about pop-culture and technology. Her 12 years of experience includes journalism, web content strategy, and social media marketing for agencies, startups, and nonprofits. She holds an M.A. in Journalism and Mass Communications from University of Wisconsin-Madison. She’s been a featured speaker on analytics at BlogHer, International Women’s Press Association, and the Publicity Club of Chicago. She leads custom trainings in social media and web analytics for businesses and nonprofits, and has taught workshopsand classes in analytics for Mediabistro.com and Dobble.co.