Smarter nonprofit communications: measuring what works

January 8, 2013

From Instagram to Tumblr to Twitter, nonprofits have more ways than ever before to reach prospective supporters and activists. You can make an infographic and blast it out via email and Facebook, create an online petition, or post a video on YouTube. The number of choices can be dizzying, especially given the limited capacity most of our clients are working with.

But gone are the days when communications managers have to rely on a “focus group of one” to plan outreach efforts. Because while technology provides dozens of new ways to reach audiences, perhaps its greatest contribution to nonprofit communications is the instant feedback loop provided by website analytics, email statistics, Facebook Insights, etc. Suddenly, we have the information needed to refine and target our messages and imagery for maximum impact – all in real time.

By using data, smart NGOs have begun leveraging this feedback loop get to know their audiences and tailor content to fit.  For the ocean advocates at Upwell, this takes the form of “big listening” – scanning the web constantly to track trending marine topics and harness public interest. For Upworthy, it means writing 25 headlines for every story and testing the heck out of them.

For many of our clients, data-driven communications simply means paying attention to the emails, Facebook posts, or fundraising appeals that generate the best responses and trying to replicate those successes to isolate the secret sauce.

Audiences will show you what resonates if you’re paying attention. Tracking metrics like open rates, clicks and social shares allows nonprofits to iterate quickly and efficiently for greatest impact.

Want to get real fancy with your data?  A/B testing enables groups to compare the real-time performance of different elements of an email or webpage side by side. Check back soon for a blog post about how to do it.

And if you’re ready to start measuring what works for your own campaigns, here’s a basic spreadsheet for quarterly tracking.

Coming next: The basics and benefits of A/B testing

–Kim and Nicole