[GUEST POST] How Nonprofit Data Can Help You Master Four Fundraising Strategies

For years, the nonprofit industry has talked about using nonprofit data to be more effective. It sounds great in theory, but what does data-backed fundraising actually look like?

We’re here to show you! Read on to discover how to use fundraising data to build donation forms that:

  • Convert donors
  • Create appeals that inspire your supporters
  • Run social media campaigns that engage your audiences
  • Send emails your donors actually want to read.

Psst: if you’re a newbie to the data-for-nonprofits game, you might enjoy this introduction to the topic.

Why is it so important to use nonprofit data to guide your decisions?

If you’re like most fundraisers, you have to make the most of your limited time, energy, and resources. Creating a fundraising campaign is a ton of work — using data to guide your development processes will help you get the best return on the resources you invest in your campaign.

When you spend hours writing an appeal or creating a social media post, it’s important that your time is well spent. Using data is the best way to ensure you get the results you want.

Tracking key data points will help ensure you spend your time, energy,
and resources on activities that get you closer to your goals.

Let’s take a look at how to use data to make your fundraising activities more efficient.

Use Data to Create Donation Forms that Encourage Conversion

Even the most enthusiastic potential donor can be discouraged by donation forms that are long or awkward. When a donor lands on your donation form, they’ve probably gotten there after reading an inspiring email or seeing a heartwarming social media post. But the warm-fuzzy feelings that inspire donors to land on your donation form are easily dispersed by a confusing or annoying donation process. Using data to inform adjustments to your donation form will help you identify the tactics that will keep your donors engaged in the donation process.

What data you’ll need

There are a few pieces of data that will help you identify areas for improvement on your donation form. Word to the wise: A lot of the data points we’ll discuss here come from Google Analytics; if you don’t have Google Analytics on your donation form(s), there’s no time like the present to get them set up! Google Analytics will give you detailed information about what people do once they land on your donation page.

Bounce Rate

The first piece of data to consider as you examine your donation form’s performance is your page’s bounce rate. The bounce rate is the percentage of people who land on your donation form and don’t go to other pages (this includes confirmation pages). You can find your bounce rate by looking at Google Analytics for your donation form.

Understanding your bounce rate over time will help you understand
how compelling your donation form is to potential donors.

If you have a high bounce rate, it means that the content on your donation form doesn’t catch donors’ attention and inspire them to give. Try updating images, adding eye-catching impact statements, and using a single-step form.

Form Conversion Rate

Another important data point to consider is your form’s conversion rate. The conversion rate is the percentage of people who land on your donation form and complete a gift. You can also find this information in Google Analytics. If you have a low conversion rate, two things may be at play.

The first element to consider is how eye-catching or compelling your donation form is to the people who land on your page. As with bounce rate, if only a small percentage of people who land on your page complete a gift, try making your donation form more compelling by adding powerful images, impact statements, and calls to action. When a donor lands on your form, they should immediately understand why they should donate and what their gift will accomplish.

The second element to consider is the length and complexity of your donation form. Long, complicated donation forms distance potential donors from the emotions that made them want to give in the first place. Short, clear donation forms have the best conversion rates; if your donation form has a low conversion rate that doesn’t improve by adding images and impact statements, the issue may be with the form itself. Try streamlining your form to eliminate extra fields or clarifying your copy.

What can I learn from this?

Your online donation form is one of the most important assets in your digital fundraising arsenal. Tracking these data points will help you keep an eye on the “health” of your online donation form. Eighty to ninety percent of people who land on your donation form won’t make a gift — so, work toward bringing that number down by using data to build a compelling, efficient form that makes donors feel amazing about giving to your nonprofit.

Identify What Appeals are Most Effective

Is there anything more deflating than working hard on an appeal only for it to flop? Writing appeals is hard enough — writing appeals without understanding what will motivate your donors to give makes it even harder. Being sure you include the appeal elements that you know inspire people to donate means you’ll get a greater return on the time, effort, and resources spent on your appeals — but how?

The answer, of course, is data!

What data you’ll need

Gathering these important data points will help you identify different elements in your appeals that have inspired and motivated donors in the past. For this, you’ll want to track one metric in particular.

Click-throughs to Your Donation Form

One of the best ways to pinpoint what appeals work (or don’t work) is to track the number of people who click on a link in your appeal to visit your donation form. If you send one appeal that gets 200 people to click on the link to your donation form and another that only results in 50 clicks, you can deduce that the first appeal was more compelling.

Tracking which buttons and links in emails catch donors’ eyes
will help you make even more effective appeals in the future.

Where to look for your click-through rate depends on where you’re asking for support. Facebook and other social channels will include clicks in your Page Insights or other analytics dashboards. If you’re making appeals via email, your email service should include click-through rates in email performance reports. As another example, text-based appeals should show you the number of initiated gifts compared to completed gifts, which is a great way to gauge how compelling your appeal was to your mobile donors.

But what about direct mail appeals? Try this: If you’re including a note about online donations in a direct mail appeal, set up a donation page and URL specifically for that mailing. That will make it easy for you to identify donations that resulted from that direct mail send.

What can I learn from this?

Understanding what appeals get your supporters’ attention and inspire them to make a gift is the best way to consistently create compelling fundraising campaigns. The more campaigns you can compare, the more you’ll be able to make data-backed decisions.

Don’t worry too much if you can’t draw definitive conclusions about your donors’ motivations right away — your data will become increasingly useful to you as you compare more appeals.

Start with what you have. Compare several campaigns that performed well. What elements do they have in common? Use those in future campaigns. Then, compare a couple of campaigns that didn’t perform the way you’d like. What elements do they have in common? Try avoiding those elements in future campaigns.

Create Social Media Campaigns that Engage and Excite Your Supporters

Social media is an important channel for fundraising, community engagement, and marketing. But creating social media campaigns requires extensive planning and lots of work, and it can be exasperating for your hard work to go unnoticed.

Your donors are paying attention to your social media channels. Our Generational Giving Report revealed that 44% of donors will check a charity’s social media platforms to learn more about their work and how they can get involved. Social media is important when they’re deciding to give; 34% of donors will check social media channels as part of their research process, and 22% of them will decide not to donate if their chosen nonprofit has a poor social media presence. After they donate, 34% of those donors will look to your social channels for updates and information about how their gift was used. What you share on those platforms will help donors connect with your mission, decide to donate to you, and stay engaged with your work — but how can you ensure you’re posting what they want to see?

What data you’ll need

If you want to understand what social media posts your donors enjoy seeing, there are two important metrics to track.

Post Engagement

Donors will engage with the content that inspires them. Engagement includes things such as likes, comments, clicks, and shares. If you have a post that gets lots of engagement, you can safely conclude that you’ve shared content your donors find compelling.

Use social media analytics tools to identify several posts that have gotten good engagement. Engagement is tracked in individual platforms (like Facebook or Instagram Insights) or, if you’re using one, in your social media management tools (like Sprout Social or HootSuite).

This social media post got great engagement, which lets this nonprofit’s staff
know that their audiences are interested in this type of content.


Understanding which posts inspire clicks to your website or other pages provides insight into what kinds of posts interest your donors and what stories and information catch their attention. Imagine you work for an animal shelter and post an update about a volunteer program and get hundreds of clicks to your website. You can safely bet that your audience is interested in volunteering and hearing more stories from the people who donate their time and energy to your cause.

If that post only got one or two clicks, it could mean a few things. Your audience may not be as interested in volunteering as they are in other programs, or your post could have been shared at an inopportune time. Do some experimentation and see if you can get those numbers up.

When you post on social media, remember to look at the click-through rates using your social channels’ insights tools and dashboards. It’s a valuable way to gauge what inspires your supporters. Posts that perform well help you paint a picture of the kinds of posts your audiences want to see. Underperforming posts are an opportunity to experiment with the content, post styles, and posting schedule you use on your different social channels.

What do I learn from this?

Keeping an eye on your social media performance helps you understand what programs your audiences love. If you notice that fundraising appeals that feature images of your clients get more engagement and clicks than appeals that focus more on statistics and financial reporting, you can adjust future appeals to make them more successful. If your audiences don’t respond to posts about the end of your fiscal year, you can concentrate on more engaging content and save fiscal year updates for your board meetings and impact reports. Tracking data around your social media performance will give you invaluable clues about what inspires, entertains, and excites your audiences.

Send Emails Your Donors Actually Want to Read

The average person receives more than 120 emails daily, and that number rises every day. Understanding what your donors and other supporters want to read can be the difference between someone reading and acting upon your message and the message ending up in someone’s trash or spam folder.

You could have the most compelling story and the most beautifully written appeal in the world, but they won’t result in donations if your audiences aren’t opening them. But data can help you send emails at the right time, write subject lines that catch audiences’ eyes, and create content that moves donors to give, volunteer, or spread the word about your mission.

What data you’ll need

Email is important enough that most email services give you lots of performance data that can help you write and send outstanding emails. Here are some important data points to track.

Glean valuable information about what interests your donors, what inspires them
to give, and what programs are compelling to them by tracking your email performance.

Open Rates

Your email’s open rate is the percentage of people who opened your email. You’re a nonprofit, so you have an important advantage: Nonprofits have some of the best open rates out there! Campaign Monitor found that nonprofits have an average email open rate of ~25.2%. Your email service provider should show you the open rates of each of your emails, which makes comparing different emails’ performance relatively straightforward.

If your email open rate is below that benchmark of about 25%, don’t fret. It’s time to start experimenting with your email subject lines. There are lots of factors that contribute to someone opening your email, but your subject line is one of the biggest ones. Try plugging your subject line into a subject line tester (like this one or this one) for suggestions that can help you write something more compelling to your donors. The more subject lines you’ve written, the easier it will become to write a good one.

If you’ve got dynamite subject lines but a low open rate, you can also try sending your emails on different days of the week or even during different times in the day. You may find that an email sent on Monday performs better than those sent on Fridays. Or you may discover that emails sent after working hours outperform emails sent during the day. Don’t worry if you don’t nail it the first couple of times; the key is to experiment enough that you can confidently predict when your audience wants to hear from you.

Email Click-throughs

This is another valuable piece of information you can find in your emails’ performance reports. Whereas your open rate is the percentage of people who click on your email to open it, your email click-through rate is the number of people who have opened your email and clicked on a link included in the copy. Click-through rates are typically much lower than open rates: The same Campaign Monitor study we mentioned earlier found that nonprofit click-through rates are around 2.6%.

While it’s nice to know the number of people who click on links in your emails, what’s even more important is understanding which links in your email inspire people to click on them. Just as click-through rates in social media reveal what kinds of information donors want to see, click-through rates in emails do the same thing. As you create and send emails to your different audiences, keep an eye on which links get the most clicks. What can you learn about your supporters by tracking what interests them?

Conversion Rates on Forms Linked in the Email

You’ve tracked open rates; you’ve identified your click-through rates; but have you looked at form conversion rates from email sends?

To get this number, find the number of people who clicked to a page on your website that contains a form (like a donation form, a volunteer form, a client interest form, etc.). Then, calculate the percentage of those visitors who completed the form.

The simple copy and striking image on this donation form help
donors understand how their gift will make an impact.

You can get this information from your Google Analytics dashboard. We highly recommend using UTM links when sending emails — they’ll make it much easier to identify which donations are a result of your email (Not sure what a UTM link is? This explains it!). Using UTM links adds an extra step to your email preparation, but the data you’ll get back is worth the effort!

If the link you’re tracking goes to a donation form, you can get clearer data by creating a unique donation form for your appeal without the use of UTM codes. A donation form used specifically for an email won’t include traffic from other channels, which will make it easier to identify conversion rates from a specific message. Drop your Google Analytics code to your donation form, link it in your email, and track the number of people who fill out the form; you’ll be able to confidently say that the only contributing factor to their donation was your email.

What do I learn from this?

If you can identify what emails catch your donors’ attention, inspire them to click through to your website (or other pages), and fill out a form, you can use that information to create even more effective messaging. Tracking these data points reveals when donors read their emails, what stories and causes interest them, and how you can communicate with them in a way that inspires them to get involved.


Understanding what data is useful to your nonprofit and how to use that data to make informed decisions can feel overwhelming. We hope these pointers give you a good starting point. Use these tips to build effective donation forms, write great appeals, engage your audiences on social media, and create emails your donors love to read.

Kimberly Funk is the Channel Marketing Manager at Qgiv, a company providing online fundraising solutions that empower nonprofits to thrive and grow. Kimberly is a seasoned Marketing & Sales professional, having worked extensively in various industries such as financial, entertainment, solar, employment and franchising and most importantly…nonprofit. In her free time, she is on the tennis court, Pilates studio, or being dog mom to her rescue puppies.

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