Using data to connect with people who can change lives
When YWCA Metropolitan Chicago wanted to make its fundraising efforts more effective, we helped them use data to connect with new donors.
Donor dollars allow nonprofits like YWCA Metropolitan Chicago to serve their local communities. Keeping those dollars flowing—and those vital services running—requires dedication, organization, and a little creativity.
YWCA Metropolitan Chicago wanted to engage its donors and constituents in new ways. To do so, it embarked on a digital membership engagement strategy project.
Its transformation agenda took a holistic approach to organizational reform, spanning operations, finance, marketing, and strategic partnerships.
Part of that broader agenda focused on data.
Smarter fundraising starts with data
YWCA needed better data collection, organization, and analysis so it could fundraise more efficiently and better serve its constituents.
But it needed to start with the basics.
YWCA runs roughly a dozen programs in the Chicagoland area, but due to resource constraints, those programs don’t have great systems for communicating with each other. Its Young Parents Program, for example, operates out of a different facility than its Sexual Violence and Support Services program. Both programs collect and track constituent information using different spreadsheets and formats.
Multiply that across all of the organization’s programs, outreach events, and marketing campaigns, and you’ve got some significant data challenges.
It’s a problem that we see with many clients, especially nonprofits, said Dominic Bardele, Slalom project manager. They don’t have standardized processes for collecting and defining data, and their data systems don’t work well together. Discrepancies that seem minor—such as the difference between one field ( Name) and two (First Name and Last Name)—are huge impediments in the data world.
A chance encounter
With limited resources, tackling a major data project wasn’t realistic for YWCA until Bardele and Susan Kane, fellow graduates of the University of Chicago Booth School of Business, were seated next to each other at an Economic Outlook luncheon. Bardele’s day job—wrangling data for Slalom clients—caught the chief financial officer of YWCA Chicago’s interest.
Kane explained her organization’s concerns, but also noted that they didn’t have the funds to pay for a consultant, says Bardele. So he and a handful of peers in Slalom Chicago’s advanced analytics practice decided to put their expertise to work for the nonprofit, free of charge.
Their mission: Help YWCA get a clear picture of its client and donor data, so it could build a better digital engagement and communications strategy.
YWCA Metropolitan Chicago serves more than 150,000 women, children, and families. To support its mission of eliminating racism and empowering women, the organization offers programming on economic empowerment, sexual violence support, and early childhood education.
Many nonprofits, like YWCA, rely heavily on public contributions and individual memberships.
However, the Nonprofit Finance Fund’s 2014 State of the Nonprofit Sector Survey found that the economic recovery is negatively impacting many nonprofits and needy communities. For the sixth year running, 80 percent of respondents reported an increase in demand for services, and 56 percent were unable to meet demand in 2013—the highest reported in the survey’s history.
Data quality and census data
The team started by combining YWCA’s different data sources into a single file. They hoped to perform a customer segmentation analysis on the data from that master file to determine which individual donors would be good candidates for different marketing strategies.
But, after analyzing the newly created master file, they ran into a roadblock: The data quality wasn’t high enough to draw any meaningful insights. That’s another problem that many of our clients face, says Bardele, and it’s one that can lead to costly mistakes and missed opportunities.
The team told YWCA about the data problems, and they also found a workaround. Substituting publicly available US Census data for constituent data would still allow them to draw the connections necessary to help YWCA.
Jessica Hempel, Slalom data analyst, pulled census data, such as age, race, and income level, from local ZIP codes, and then grouped the ZIP codes into demographically similar segments using K-means clustering.
She then used those census clusters to define four demographic profiles.
Lastly, Hempel paired the demographic profiles with YWCA donor information to identify those profiles—and which ZIP codes within those profiles—where residents would be most likely to donate.
“We’re saying … this should be your ideal donor”
Hempel’s analysis determined that middle class professionals were the most likely to donate. She drilled down further to identify ten areas that were ideal for targeted marketing by finding ZIP codes with similar demographics to that top donor profile that were not currently engaging with YWCA.
“All 10 ZIP codes were demographically similar to the YWCA’s best donor demographic, yet weren’t contributing to the organization in a meaningful way,” said Hempel. That provided an opportunity.
“We’re saying … this should be your ideal donor,” said Hempel.
The team also delivered a heat map overlay of the organization’s donors and constituents.
“They could see, hey lots of our constituents live here, but no programs exist there,” said Hempel.
“Slalom provided a critical piece of the puzzle.”
Better understanding of clients and donors
Bardele and Hempel believe their work will help YWCA increase donations and support the programs and services that it offers.
Already, YWCA officials say, the data work is helping them better understand their donors and clients.
“Slalom provided a critical piece of the puzzle,” said Molly Silverman, director of strategic engagement for YWCA Metropolitan Chicago.
About YWCA Metropolitan Chicago
In 1876, a group of Chicago women joined forces to support the growing number of single working women in their city, and Chicago YWCA was born. Those 13 women laid the groundwork for more than a century’s worth of programming and services focused on empowering women.
Today, YWCA Metropolitan Chicago serves more than 150,000 women, children, and families at seven centers throughout the greater Chicago area. The nonprofit offers programming that supports the national organization’s core pillars: sexual violence support, economic empowerment, and early childhood education. Its work is funded largely by a combination of government grants and public support, including individual memberships.