Data is an unavoidable part of board management. Fundraising, marketing, monitoring board engagement — the list of data-filled areas is a long one!
I get it — numbers can be intimidating for someone who spends their workdays writing marketing materials for a company or teaching history to high school students. The great thing about board service is that anyone with a passion for the cause can get involved. You don’t have to be a full-time data analyst to leverage numbers in board service.
Regardless of your experience with data, I can’t stress enough how important it is to talk about — and act on it — in the boardroom. Too many boards overlook it simply because it can be difficult to filter through the numbers. But organized data can make your nonprofit much more effective. Boards can use data to locate areas in need of attention at the organization. They can then use it to make better decisions for the mission. After all, data-fueled decisions are most often the most impactful ones.
Some organizations proactively gather data. That doesn’t mean they necessarily gather the right data or know how to synthesize it to inform their work, though. That comes with time and research. To help, we’ll explore different ways your board can actually use the data your nonprofit tracks. We’ll walk through the following data-based strategies:
- Inform your organization’s fundraising strategies.
- Use it as a way to measure board member engagement.
- Enhance outreach efforts.
It’s okay if your board members don’t immediately understand the numbers they’re working with. What matters is that they spend time trying, so they can provide greater outcomes for the organization they serve. Let’s dive in!
Inform your organization’s fundraising strategies
Board members play a critical role in development. Boardable’s guide to board fundraising goes into depth about how board members contribute overall, and we’ll take a look at specifically how data can inform the fundraising strategies they choose.
Overall, tracking fundraising data empowers nonprofit boards to understand the most cost-effective fundraising strategies and eliminate inefficient practices.
The good news is that most boards already have fundraising tools to track the information they need. Your technology is only as useful as you make it, though. Leverage your CRM to track fundraising metrics across different channels, making it easy to pull reports to share with the board.
To do this efficiently, sync with your development team to determine what’s most useful to share with your board. Recently, I’ve seen a lot of boards talking about metrics like:
- Donor retention. Bloomerang estimates that the industry’s average donor retention rate hovers around 45%. Knowing if you’re underperforming compared to similar organizations is essential. Your board can monitor your donor retention year-over-year too to see if it’s dropped. If it has, they’ll know to invest more resources into donor engagement.
- Lapsed donors. That same resource also notes that the recapture rate for lost donors is only 4%. If you lose a donor, there’s a slim chance they’ll come back. Boards should understand whether the organization is losing donors so they can invest more in appreciation efforts, if necessary.
- Corporate philanthropy eligibility vs. actual participation. Corporate philanthropy is a major buzzword right now. Companies have found that giving back improves their reputation and employee morale. Who wouldn’t want that? Take a look at how much money is available to your organization in the form of volunteer grants, matching gifts, or similar programs. Compare it to the actual amount you’ve received. Low participation rates may mean you need to step up promotion for corporate giving opportunities.
- Return on investment for various campaigns. Board members should understand if your campaigns are worth the time and money. Choose one campaign to analyze at a time. Take a look at how much you spent on venue space, outreach, staff time, and so on vs. how much you actually made. Do the same for other campaigns. You’ll quickly see what types of campaigns tend to perform well with your audience.
Understanding your organization’s fundraising successes and shortcomings is critical to your board’s strategies. They should always know what’s working and what’s not. They’ll be able to see things your development team might miss and make your acquisition and cultivation efforts more impactful.
Use it as a way to measure board member engagement
When it comes to board service, few things are as important as how engaged people are in the work they’re doing. They’re volunteering their time and talent. The last thing you want is to bore them so much that they can’t wait for their term to be over.
Board chairs, among other leadership, can gain a sense of how engaged board members are in their work. They can use data as an indication of whether they’re fulfilling their obligations. Modern board technology makes this once tedious task surprisingly easy. Take a look at your board management system. You might be able to automatically track engagement metrics like:
- Attendance. Your board members need to actually show up if they want to make a difference. How often are your board members currently attending meetings? If attendance numbers are low, open up greater meeting accessibility options or adjust the meeting cadence to better fit everyone’s schedules. If one person in particular isn’t showing up, it might be worthwhile to have an open conversation with that person to see what’s going on.
- Task completion. An effective board is one that gets work done between meetings. Track the number of assignments you give vs. how many actually get finished. A near-perfect completion rate? Great! A low completion rate? You may be assigning too much work. Prioritize the most important assignments and regularly follow up to see if you can help members get past any roadblocks.
- Board giving metrics. Do your board members believe in your mission so much that they donate? Track which board members give, as well as how much they donate. While not always an obligation, it’s certainly a plus when board members give. Then, you can reach out personally to thank them.
You can take a look at the board as a whole or on a committee or individual level. The point is this: a board member’s involvement shouldn’t be assessed on one measure. Gathering a range of data points over time will better reflect their involvement. It helps you piece the puzzle together about whether they’ll want to stick around for another term and why.
Need more insight into whether board members are enjoying their work? Surveys can provide additional engagement data or help determine variables that caused changes in engagement metrics.
Enhance outreach efforts
Data marketing is a powerful strategy that more marketing professionals are leveraging each day. It helps you make the most of every marketing effort. Share analytics with your board regarding how well your outreach is performing. They can use it to determine what types of messages resonate with your audience. For instance, you can share key metrics such as:
- Email open rates. If your open rate for a particular email is low, this might indicate that your subject line was less than ideal, or maybe you sent it at a bad time of day when supporters were busy. Have the board compare the underperforming email to other emails that had higher open rates and determine what was different.
- Click-through rates. Each communication you send should have a particular action you’re encouraging people to take. That might mean donating, signing up to volunteer, or registering for an event. People might open your messages, but are they taking action? Monitor your click-through rates for different messages. Then, give the board the opportunity to share their thoughts on what works well (and what doesn’t). For example, the placement of the call-to-action or wording may not be impactful enough.
- Social media interactions. “Interactions” include metrics like shares, likes, and comments. Have the board use this information to determine what types of posts your supporters interact with and which they scroll past on their newsfeeds. They can also take a look at anything they post about your organization on their personal profiles. What tends to gain some traction among their followers?
Looping the board into how your outreach is performing opens up the opportunity to get new perspectives. If some messages underperform, your board can collaborate and come up with various ways to improve future communications that your marketing team might not have considered.
Use data in your outreach
Your board members don’t have to solely analyze data. They can also leverage certain metrics to liven up their outreach. Many great board leaders spend their time promoting the causes they’re devoted to. Data helps illustrate impact within this outreach. When shared with supporters, it helps establish a sense of trust in the organization. It points to your team as an effective steward of donations and strengthens your value proposition.
Metrics increase shareability, too. Data-infused content will inspire supporters to share the outreach with their networks, amplifying your messages. Who doesn’t love a good statistic? Board members should put thought into the claims they’re making and the metrics they’re using to back those messages up.
When posting about your organization, board members can:
- Back up anecdotes with real-world data. When combined with firsthand experiences, board members can strengthen stories with data, making claims credible and the organization more relatable and reliable. Storytelling research shows that people are much more likely to remember a story (63%) than a statistic (5%) by itself. Board members should provide data as supportive evidence at the end of the stories they share with supporters to help validate claims. This strategy will go a long way in communicating your work’s impact.
- Illustrate impact when sharing data from an audit or annual report. Annual reports, IRS Form 990s, and public-facing audits can be tedious for supporters to read through. Bring the data to life and summarize key points by having board members pull standout metrics and share infographics online. Create one or a few infographics that showcase stats like administrative efficiency, programmatic impact, and so on. This can make data more accessible for readers who skim reports. They’ll be able to instantly see the most important information.
Data can be a powerful resource for strengthening mission-related content. Data-rich content helps to illustrate impact and performance to those who support your work. So, board members should be leveraging metrics every chance they get. That means improving everything from the stories they share on their personal social media pages to official annual reports, press releases, and advertisements.
Data can guide your board’s efforts so long as they understand what information they should track and how they can leverage it in their work. As board leaders, we must understand that in order for board members to leverage metrics, we have to provide them with that data. Share information on a regular basis to support their decision-making needs. This might mean weekly, monthly, quarterly, or annual updates. Giving them regular insight into the organization’s performance will empower them to do their best work.
About Jeb Banner:
Jeb is the founder and CEO of Boardable, a board management software provider for mission-driven boards. He is also the founder of two nonprofits, The Speak Easy and Musical Family Tree, as well as a board member of United Way of Central Indiana and ProAct. Jeb is based in Indianapolis, Indiana.