By Xochi Adame | February 8, 2013
This week, DoGoodBuyUs hosted its Nonprofit + Technology panel at NYC’s Centre for Social Innovation’s Pop-Up Space, an emerging coworking and incubator organization. DoGoodBuyUs, a Silicon Alley-based marketplace for social good, brought in leading local experts in innovative social enterprise.
DoGoodBuyUs founder Zack Rosenberg moderated a panel consisting of Amy Sample Ward, Membership Director at NTEN; Arun Krishnan, CMO at Pontiflex; Paull Young, Director of Digital Engagement at Charity: Water and Adam Hirsch, SVP of Digital at Edelman and former CDO of Millennial social good organization DoSomething.org. Rosenberg led an enthusiastic discussion that dove quickly into nonprofits’ growing need for skilled in-house data scientists and how to adopt top tech solutions affordably.
Nonprofits and Data: More than Strategic, Mission Critical
Big data, BI and metrics are all buzzterms, but for good reason. Sure, nonprofits have always been tasked with proving the success of their efforts. But digital technology is becoming increasingly intelligent, setting the bar for granular, targeted reporting that delivers actionable insights. Moreover, today’s donors want meaningful, personalized engagement and expect quantifiable examples of their direct impacts. For nonprofits to stay relevant, they must analyze their data at all levels – from internal measurement of their websites and digital campaigns – to external reporting of mission progress for stakeholders.
According to Young, marketing fluff and manufactured guilt trips are outmoded. Nonprofits need to design innovative customer and donor experiences that are strategically driven by data. Ward notes that donors want a seamless, holistic experience across their interactions with the organization. But seamless experiences depend on integrated data, as well as the breaking down of silos in order for technologies and people to develop clear communications, and when possible – in real time.
Hirsch is a strong advocate for hiring an in-house data scientist. In today’s world, nonprofits can’t afford not to. Nonprofits’ biggest data pain point is the cost of BI and data management platforms. “They are all very expensive, and they’re not that good,” said Hirsch. So how do you get buy-in from decision makers? Ward suggests challenging executive leadership with the “5 layers of ‘how’.” Ask leadership a series of questions, such as, “how do you know we are meeting our mission?” Answers will become increasingly vague and in obvious need of an empirical leg to stand on as you repeatedly reply “how?” Ward encourages leveraging NTEN’s reports on the why’s and how’s of data to make your case. Don’t forget to come prepared with analytics to support your request. “Having the data to prove you need the data is the most critical element in gaining buy-in,” says Young.
What’s the affordable alternative? Hirsch offered up the following tips:
- Hire an in-house data scientist – someone with an SPSS background is preferable because analyzing survey-based data is relatively affordable and is effective.
- Tableau – Access to analytics for as little as $1K. For about $2K, Tableau can integrate with your API.
- ‘R’ – This is an open-source data analytics and statistics language. It’s totally free and powerful to boot!
- Optimizely – Very affordable and effective AB Testing
- Google Analytics – Free website metrics offer in-depth traffic details that can be linked to email marketing, digital assets, social media campaigns and more. Understanding how to leverage GA is a must.
Technology-driven on a Shoestring
Securing a budget for leading technology solutions is a hefty challenge and deeply felt pain point among many nonprofits. Building effective engagement strategies for digital, social – and now more-than-ever, mobile – is critical for nonprofits who wish to stay relevant, engage communities in real-time and prove direct impacts to individual supporters. And to be clear – the always on, connected way of life isn’t just pervasive among Millennials – but is quickly saturating all segments of society.
Where to start? Ward suggests checking with Nonprofit-focused tech resources such as TechSoup for the latest reviews and advice on budget-conscious solutions. “Technology is the really easy part,” Ward reminds the audience. “Knowing how to use technology efficiently and effectively is the biggest hurdle.” “Do it wrong quickly,” says Young, encouraging experimental, fast iterations over painstaking perfection. When it comes to spending wisely, Hirsch notes nonprofits must master the art of negotiating and discovering special discounts and perks. A growing number of leading services, such as Google, Hootsuite, Twitter and YouTube, have nonprofit programs and grants. When it comes to cutting costs by leveraging multiple API tweaks and platform integrations, Hirsch strongly advises nonprofits to take extra care to factor in total cost of ownership (TCO). Knowing when to customize and when to partner with an end-to-end provider, such as Salesforce, is key.
Panelist Picks – Top Tech Programs for Nonprofits:
- Google for Nonprofits: Programs include NP edition of AdWords, Google Apps and YouTube
- JPMorgan’s Technology for Social Good: A variety of top-notch projects and programs worth investigating
- Twitter for Nonprofits Program: Includes pro bono ad program, analytics and best use case blog Hope140
- VerticalResponse for Nonprofits: Free access to their digital marketing suite, including email and social tools