Data Management for Jewish Nonprofits in 2013: A Critical Resource Worth Championing!

data_miningby Robert I. Evans and Avrum D. Lapin

Proper collection and management of data is critical for Jewish nonprofits to maximize their performance and impact. Yet many Jewish organizations underutilize data management strategies and systems, failing to harness the key tools that can underscore their mission and improve their organizational strategy.

With this as an important assumption, we ask two key questions:

  1. How can professional leaders of Jewish nonprofits commit themselves to understanding the importance of data collection, and encourage an evaluation-driven culture within their organizations?
  2. Why are so many Jewish nonprofits lagging in implementing needed technology, especially for their fund resource development efforts?

We live in an increasingly data-driven society. Many donors and funders want to see clear impact, evaluation metrics, and accountability benchmarks before making those major gifts. Utilizing comparative data offers nonprofits a means of measuring their progress toward achieving their mission and goals, and also a way of improving that progress. Data measurement systems enable nonprofits to improve their fundraising strategy, by tracking important metrics such as donor retention, average gift, and cost per donor.

The recent survey by NTEN and Idealware explored a variety of nonprofits’ relationships with data. The results were dramatic. Most nonprofits were either working significantly with their metrics … or not much at all. This means that there is a major disparity within the nonprofit sector. Organizations are either capitalizing on new technologies and data collection … or they’re being left behind in the dust. And again we wonder out loud about where Jewish nonprofit executives fall in this overview.

The majority of the nonprofits respondents that do track financial measures, such as expenses, income and cash-on-hand, also find them to be incredibly useful metrics. Data extrapolated from the management system enables nonprofits to take actions that minimize overhead, show the effectiveness of management, or demonstrate the composition and efficacy of an organization’s Board of Directors. Data can also help management make staffing decisions by measuring turnover of staff, as well as other human and financial resources.

Why then are so few Jewish nonprofits incorporating data management into their daily operational and fundraising strategies?

The answer may lie in a lack of strategic direction from the top. Technologically adverse Board presidents and Executive Directors can stymie their organization’s capabilities by adhering to the tried-and-true strategies of the past instead of innovating and implementing powerful new tools. Recent developments in the marketplace of online software have made it easier, and cheaper, than ever before to utilize a comprehensive, easy-to-understand data management system.

Plus, we’ve seen that Board members and other campaign workers are demanding more historical information prior to reaching out to potential donors, which means that development officers need to consider how best to access, organize, and retrieve such information. Still, many Jewish nonprofit executives refuse to make a case for membership and fundraising technology tools.

Jim Gelles, President of Membership Management Services, the company responsible for publishing MM2000 Synagogue Software, agrees that implementing data management tools must be a decision that is lead by executive staff members.

“It requires a top-down approach to implement these strategies,” Gelles explains. “Professional leaders need to effectively communicate to their Board about the importance of software and a unified data entry process. Successful organizations have their top management and staff working alongside each other using the database as a tool.”

To empower the Jewish nonprofit community to embrace these important new tools, it is crucial that Jewish organizations build a culture that values data. Jewish professionals must encourage innovation and provide opportunities for staff members to learn how to use management databases, understand the data they are collecting, and feel like data-based decision-making will help them complete their jobs more effectively.

Once staff understands how to maneuver the data-management system, they will be better equipped to use these metrics to make strategic decisions that further the impact of their organizations, improve their credibility, and encourage increased financial support of their programs. Jewish organizations will be able to incorporate the alignment of data collection into the organization’s process for program delivery and fundraising strategy.

“One of the reasons that organizations use our databases is to get a handle on how their fundraising campaigns are operating and tie it with other demographics that our software handles,” Gelles affirms.

“They’re not only interested in the pledges that a family made to the Capital Campaign, they also want to look at their yearly pledge, or how much they’re paying for school fees. That way, the institution can target their effort toward specific donors.”

We, at EHL Consulting, encourage Jewish nonprofits to make 2013 the year that you commit to incorporating data-management systems into your organization. Jewish nonprofit executives must embrace the great opportunities that updated technology can provide. Easy-to-use software programs make record-keeping far simpler today, and sophisticated campaign management tools will ultimately make life easier and better for fundraising initiatives. With these systems, you will be able to track critical data that will impact your ability to reach your goals and achieve your mission, all the while providing staff with the opportunity to deepen their technical skills and enhance critical programming.

Robert I. Evans, Managing Director, and Avrum D. Lapin, Director, are principals of The EHL Consulting Group, a fundraising consulting firm located in suburban Philadelphia. They are frequent contributors to The EHL Consulting Group is one of only 38 member firms of The Giving Institute. EHL Consulting works with dozens of nonprofits on fundraising, strategic planning, and nonprofit business practices and strategies. Learn more at

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