By Avrum Lapin
One of the most commonly used new buzzwords in development and philanthropy recently has been “data.” Using data effectively, data analysis, and data philanthropy are terms and ideas that have quietly crept into our lexicon of development best practices. Using data helps synergize the art and science of fundraising, allowing numbers to fill in some of the gaps, helping to support intuitive assumptions. For those who are not employed in the development field, including Board members and organizational leaders, using facts and figures can help create a picture that is more easily understood by all.
For many working at Jewish nonprofits, especially synagogues, the idea of collecting data and using it to advance fundraising and engagement might seem daunting. Without large (or even small) marketing and development departments, many synagogues do not feel equipped to enter this arena. However, there is a good chance that even the smallest nonprofits have the capacity and the tools they need to use data to inform the fundraising process.
Data collection can be as simple as charting numbers in excel and converting them to a graph. Additionally, there are nearly a dozen membership software programs marketed to synagogues, and nearly every synagogue uses one of them. These programs all have reporting tools and embedded measurement analytics. Further data is also accessible such as open rates to newsletters, attendance logs and synagogue expense reports. Other sorts of data might take a bit of digging or creating, such as surveys and evaluation forms, but will be well worth the effort.
Which Data is Useful?
Using data can help with key decisions, from running events and creating budgets, to big picture questions like vision and strategic direction. It can answer questions like: Which programs are most expensive and best attended? Who is more engaged: empty-nesters or religious school parents? Are donors more likely to be charitable on Yom Kippur, or at the end of the year, or both?
- Membership Numbers: It sounds so basic, but do you really know how many people belong to your congregation? Often, member families are counted, but how does this translate to actual people? Knowing how many people are actual members of a congregation or organization is critical – for planning events, predicting support, and even ordering supplies.
- Member Ages: Along with how many members, it is important to know their ages. This will inform decision-making. If the membership is older, perhaps more resources need to be set aside for certain programs, both in the evening and during the day, and even for accessibility. Younger members will require a different communications strategy. Knowing the ages of members, and charting this data will also clearly demonstrate long-term needs and steps to remain growth-oriented.
- Donor History and Capacity: Most organizations believe that they know who their top donors are – or who they think they are. However, also knowing who has given consistently over time, and having a clearer picture of what they might be capable of giving, can also be an important foundation for growing the “culture of giving,” cross-tabulated indicators of capacity and inclination. Or perhaps donors have given a large gift in the past but not recently, or have given generously somewhere else in the community, and for a particular purpose. This information is essential when predicting and asking for future major gifts.
- Renewals: Donor retention is key to the health of any organization. Looking not only at the numbers, but also the ages of those who leave the congregation can help to show trends. If members are leaving after Bar/Bat Mitzvah age, perhaps more resources, and some different strategies, are needed to engage those families.
- Revenue Streams: It is necessary to understand revenue streams. Between dues, events, special appeals, donations, bequests and rentals, there are many ways in which synagogues are supported. Each stream’s history and weight are important to factor into planning and budgeting. It is also useful to know which can be developed and have more potential. This way fundraising can become a positive, community building activity, and not just the gap between the income and the expenses.
- Engagement: Knowing the cost of events and relating these numbers to attendance is one way to measure a program’s success. (See above regarding the role and purpose of fundraising.)
- Communication: Who opens electronic newsletters? Who clicks through? Are the same names coming up? Perhaps these people are looking to be more involved, or just learning more. Looking at trends can help to indentify if the right vehicle or platform is being used and if changes need to be made.
The idea of using numbers and hard facts to make decisions can feel cold to some. However, using data can actually help a synagogue become more personal and create a more connected community. “The more that synagogues know about their existing and potential congregants, hopefully the more able they will be to customize programs, meet needs and make congregants feel they are known and not anonymous,” said Adina Frydman, executive director of Synergy, the synagogue services department of UJA-Federation of New York, speaking to The Times of Israel. Reviewing numbers and data for programming, donor engagement and membership retention creates a more tailored experience for congregants.
Looking at hard numbers can help create a platform for real change. Often numbers support what leaders might know to be true anecdotally, or may identify trends that were not known or realized. In a community where loud voices often get heard, data can help uncover nuances and support those whose voices aren’t heard or perhaps not even sought out. It can be liberating to talk about numbers rather than just about feelings and anecdotes.
Data is the seed that can spark change, but clearly the value of data is in its use. Jewish nonprofits, especially synagogues, are founded on community and relationships. Data helps to frame conversations and provide structure and a path forward. However, real change comes through people’s willingness to use the information in a way that benefits both individuals, various constituencies and the congregation as a whole.
Creating data-informed processes can seem like an overwhelming task. However, taking the extra time to integrate hard numbers and analysis into areas such as program reviews, development meetings, and budget projections, will yield great returns. These returns will be cost savings, targeted programming and communications, as well as higher donor rates and more engaged members. Encourage committees and professionals to begin to chart their measurable progress. Don’t be afraid to ask for help from others who have done this before. Lay leaders use data in their professional lives and can offer advice and assistance. Creating a culture that recognizes the importance of collecting, analyzing and reviewing data is not only best practices but can have lasting effects.
Avrum Lapin is President of The Lapin Group, LLC, based in Jenkintown, Pennsylvania, a full-service fundraising and management consulting firm for nonprofits. The Lapin Group inspires and leads US-based and international nonprofits seeking fund, organizational, leadership, and business development solutions, offering contemporary and leading-edge approaches and strategies. A Board member of the Giving Institute and a member of the Editorial Review Board of Giving USA, Avrum is a frequent contributor to eJewishPhilanthropy.com and speaker in the US and in Israel on opportunities and challenges in today’s nonprofit and philanthropic marketplace.
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