Book Review | Data Driven Non-Profits

publication date: Jun 25, 2018
author/source: Samantha Laprade, CFRE

Finally, a book on data analytics for non-profits!

The volume and variety of information inside a typical non-profit can be completely overwhelming, and yet that flood of data contains the solutions to many of the problems organizations face,” says Steve McLaughlin, author of Data Driven Non-Profits.

This sentence put me back in my seat. I have tried to find those words many times over the past decade. Steve captured both my frustration and my hope about non-profit data in one phrase.

This book is a dream come true for me as someone who has dedicated ten years to donor data analytics. Data Driven Non-Profits is an easy-to-read, must-read book for any director of development or executive director in today’s fast-paced, data focussed world. The importance of data analytics is more important than ever with high donor attrition and low second gift conversion rates.

Often books on non-profit data focus squarely on the numbers. Mr. McLaughlin, also the Director of Analytics at Blackbaud, knows the numbers are one thing but looking at them through the lens of a professional fundraiser is key. For instance, sharing the statistics on the high cost of bad data to the non-profit sector. This is an area every fundraiser needs to keep top of mind. Money is being wasted in every organization.

Mr. McLaughlin encourages non-profit staff to correct outdated addresses and update the records of deceased donors. “In the best performing non-profits, about 6% of their database file is unmailable. In average non-profits that number jumps to 26%, and, in the worst performing organizations 67% of their file is unmailable,” says Steve McLaughlin. He says the solution is simple by using a change of address service offered in both the USA and Canada.

The book also provides a path to being a data driven non-profit. It starts with clean data and answers the question: did it happen? The next step focuses on data driven enlightenment called, descriptive analytics. This answers the question: what happened? Thirdly, diagnostic analytics including dashboards keep an eye on campaign performance and alert the user to any concerns in real time. Next, observing what the non-profit knows about the past and present and making a prediction on the future is predictive analytics. Lastly, organizations using all of their data assets to support decision-making are utilizing prescriptive analytics. Ask yourself, where are we on this path?

In chapter 6, the author disputes many of the statistics that are commonly thrown around in the sector. Mr. McLaughlin challenges the reader to become data literate by learning about methodology and sample sizes. There are many resources he recommends including Darrell Huff’s classic book, How to Lie with Statistics, from 1954.

Lastly, which was music to my ears, Mr. McLaughlin talks about storytelling. He explains, “Humans are wired to respond to stories in a way that raw data can’t replicate.” Data, after all is just numbers, the story behind the data will be what inspires, motivates and challenges us to do better. What story is your donor database telling you? ----

Sam Laprade, CFRE is a consultant with Gryphon Fundraising. She is also a speaker who shares her love of data with the non-profit sector.

Data Driven Non-Profits

Steve McLaughlin

Saltire Press

ISBN-12: 9780988850712

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