Cultivating Data-Driven Initiatives with Peers

This case study was originally published along with a dozen others in our free e-book, Collected Voices: Data-Informed Nonprofits. You can download the e-book here.

When I joined the Communities of Impact (COI) program, I had been in my role of Digital Media Manager at Pathways to Education Canada for just a few months. Previously, I had served in a role as a front line youth worker, so the shift to a marketing department meant that I had a lot to learn along the way. This was evident as one of my very first questions was, Whats a KPI?

Specifically, one of the challenges I was trying to overcome was how to make better use of our web analytics. We had a lot of data, but for the most part, we weren’t looking beyond page visits and unique visitors. Other metrics, like goals and conversions, were not being tracked.

I have been told that one of the best ways to learn and improve is to surround yourself with people smarter than yourself. This was evident in the COI program as many of my peers came from strong backgrounds in managing data for their organizations of all sizes, and they helped paint a picture of what was possible when taking a data-driven approach.

A lightbulb moment occurred during a webinar with Amelia Showalter who detailed her experience as Director of Digital Analytics for President Obamas re-election campaign. What particularly resonated was her mention of vanity metrics and how it was more important to focus on conversions and goal completions rather than the number of visitors This changed the way that I looked at our web analytics.

There are a ton of resources available online on how to better use web analytics, but I never really looked into them because I wasnt aware of the kind of insights you could glean from them. A lot of information is available online to help make better sense of analytics and as well as search advertising and I also discovered free in-person training workshops that were being offered out of Googles Toronto office.

After setting up goals in our web analytics, we now had a much clearer picture of how people were navigating our website. We could identify the paths that people were taking on our site; tracking our goals and also tagging our URLs helped us better assess which platforms were performing the most effectively to engage our supporters.

Beyond this, the COI program sparked an interest in learning more and I found myself spending much of my spare time reading on how to better track web metrics and how to set up advertising campaigns. I connected with Data Analysts for Social Good, headed up by fellow COI participant Andrew Means, and had the opportunity to share a lot of my learning in webinars with other nonprofits. This past year, I have had the opportunity to teach a Digital Marketing class at a local college where I take a very data-driven approach.

Jason Shim spoke on this webinar organized by fellow COI Participant Andrew Means

At Pathways to Education, a renewed focus on web data also sparked a project to implement a tracking system to detail all of the general inquiries that are received via email and telephone. This project is now in progress and this will allow us to better track and categorize incoming requests to help better identify frequently asked questions and will help guide the redesign of our website to make information more easily accessible.

Looking back on the year, we’ve come a long way and we are taking a much more data-focused approach to all our digital initiatives. As we move ahead, focusing more on the data has helped us develop a clear framework and allowed us to make decisions more confidently.

What advice would you give to someone in a position like yours who wants to make their department or their organization more, shall we say, KPI-savvy?

For people who are looking to make their department or organization more KPI-savvy, I would suggest seeking out similar organizations who are doing great work with their data and connecting with them. This may take various forms, such as groups like COI, or LinkedIn groups, but its important to keep regularly communicating with others to receive feedback and coaching along the way. Finally, when you’ve learned a few things along the way, don’t forget to pay it forward and help others who are just starting out!