July 16, 2015 | Accelerator

Benn Stancil on how to use data to grow your tech nonprofit

Today Benn Stancil, Chief Analyst at Mode (formerly at Yammer, Microsoft and the Carnegie Endowment) gave a talk on data analytics and finding your organization’s growth engine. Rundown of key learnings below but wanted to share the success story he told us about:

Benn worked with Watsi, a tech nonprofit, to help them increase the number of donations. Watsi allows individuals to fund patients in need of healthcare. After looking at the data, Benn’s team found that one-off donations weren’t actually the way to grow. Watsi’s historical growth spikes came from an influx of recurring donations. Recurring donations come from qualified donors—in this case people truly invested in Watsi’s work.

How do you find qualified donors? A bit more data mining uncovered something counter-intuitive: requiring sign-up. Watsi had recently introduced a gift card program that funds health care to a patient of your choosing. Watsi partnered with several companies that gave away these gift cards.

Benn dug into the data and found that one partnership was particularly successful. People who redeemed gift cards received from a company called Segment were twice as likely to convert into recurring donors.

What’s going on here? Segment was the only company that required people to sign up to get the gift card. People had to work harder. This kicked up Self-Selection Bias. Only those people truly interested in Watsi took the time to sign up. Passion = 2X more likely to make a recurring donation.

This has dramatic impacts for Watsi’s donor acquisition plan. While perhaps tempting to get as many gift card donors as possible through a frictionless sign-up process, they’d spur growth by introducing barriers, weeding out people who were unlikely to become recurring donors.

Take-aways from Benn’s talk:

  1. Track everything. Don’t worry about how you’re gonna use it
  2. When looking at data be like a little kid: keep asking why
  3. Insights today might be relevant when combined with insights you catch tomorrow
  4. Focus on one problem
  5. Don’t get lost in too many opportunities
  6. Be willing to spend money on things that save you time
  7. Learn from others regardless of sector
  8. The hardest part of data is finding the right question

You can see Benn’s full presentation on the Mode blog.