Many nonprofit organizations find data to be a mixed blessing. Too much of it and you can drown in what scientists refer to as the “datacylsm,” wherein you’re desperately trying to pick out a signal amidst all the noise. Too little of it, and you can be left at a tremendous tactical disadvantage in our big data world.

However, no matter what side of the data coin toss you end up on, it is important to understand that data is not a cure-all. At CCS, we utilize data to support fundraising strategy. Whether that is the client’s data, our own proprietary data, or 3rd party data, we strongly believe in data-driven decision making. On a metric level, data is the most meaningful ally you have at your disposal. Yet without strategy and a compelling story, it’s just deactivated information.

The Allure of Data
Let’s be honest: there is a lot an organization can accomplish with the right data. In a few fast clicks, you can have a financial and social cross-section of your nonprofit’s history at your fingertips. Data can also help deepen your understanding of your nonprofit and its needs. It can provide you with a clear vision of the goal you want to achieve, and help proactively spot any looming strategic problems. Data can illustrate the community you serve.

You can scour the donor database for a historical overview of giving. You can pinpoint faithful donors, strategically target others who may be ready to take the next stop and increase levels, and spot the outliers who are ripe for re-cultivation. With a few more clicks, you can start seeing potential campaign committee members and volunteers swimming around in that data-stream.

Finally, data can be a critical tool in helping communicate more effectively with your Board and volunteers. You can point to your past successes in similar campaigns, and succinctly map out your vision and philosophy for the current one.

However, even with all of this data, you still have to make it actionable. Ultimately, data augments that all-important human factor – the most powerful tool in your fundraising arsenal.

The Importance of Narrative
The greatest gift you can provide for your campaign and to your potential donors is a compelling, clearly delineated human story of what your organization is trying to achieve. You must tell the story of your work. In order to steer your nonprofit in the proper direction, it is important to clearly answer two core questions:

• What is your message?
• What is so compelling within this message that will call both faithful and lapsed donors to action?

In our clients’ experience, the human factor still remains paramount in our data-driven world. A phone call or a registered letter to potential donors decimates the metrics of any platform – yes, even Facebook – by a truly significant margin. Why? Because mail, even a targeted email, are far more personal. The tactile visual of a mailing or the sound of a voice will always outshine social media. And the only thing more personal than your approach is the story you can share with the prospective donor.

The Perfect Harmony of Data and Narrative
After all our rhapsodizing about story, data is an incredibly potent tool to have at your disposal. Data can help focus your approach to reach your goals faster and help you set guidelines to measure meaningful progress. It allows you to know your donors on a granular level and can help you hone your materials and message to the sharpest point by directly factoring in your intended audience.

For example: You’re trying to re-cultivate a lapsed donor and convince them of the role that only they can play in making your nonprofit’s goals a reality. You’re in the position to restart this valuable relationship because data mining unearthed them; however, the story you tell them is what’s going to cement the conversation.

Only the powerful meeting of data and narrative can fully actualize and activate the other. They are nothing without the other. And together, they are the best reinforcing allies fundraisers could ask for.

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