Article Type: Case Studies

When Stuart Scadron-Wattles joined Image three years ago as Director of Resource Development, he was charged with boosting unearned income to help make the 25-year-old organization as sustainable as possible. Image began as a literary journal featuring visual work and critiques of performance by artists interested in the nexus of art, mystery, and faith. Today, it also offers more than a dozen other programs, including events and conferences.

Scadron-Wattles participated in the Nonprofit Tech Academy (NTA) in 2013. Prior to the NTA, and not long after he joined Image, a few factors were converging: The journal’s subscription rate was dropping; the subscriber population was aging; and direct mail promotions were not working like they used to. Internally, the organization maintained six discrete databases to manage subscriptions, donations, events, and other processes and programs.

“In my role, I wanted to be sure that the people participating in and benefiting from our programs were given opportunities to support the organization,” Scadron-Wattles said. But with multiple databases, it wasn’t happening consistently or easily. “We also knew—suspected and then confirmed by a survey we did—that word of mouth was the biggest factor in the decision to subscribe to the literary journal, but we weren’t sure how to support that.”

Image had been using Convio Common Ground, which was acquired and discontinued soon after Scadron-Wattles completed the Academy. In retrospect, the timing of the disappointing news was as good as it could have been, he said.

“We could have left Salesforce altogether at that point and gone to something else, but it offered us a great deal in terms of consolidating data from many sources and giving us that clichéd but valuable 360-degree view of the customer.

“What I could see from our plans was that we needed that 360 view—who’s buying, who’s donating, who’s doing both, who’s getting our e-newsletter, and what they’re doing with it. We needed a central place where that was all clear. The Academy gave me the courage to say, ‘Okay, we’re not leaving Salesforce’ and a better framework for figuring out how to move forward.”

After several months of researching, Image selected Causeview, a fundraising application built on the Salesforce platform. The transition went well, in part due to Scadron-Wattles’ temerity to ask the company for an A-team consultant, another tip he gleaned from the Academy.

The application is simple yet flexible. For example, it integrates well (running a connector) with Eventbrite, “without us having to pay the big bucks for a turnkey solution, two-thirds of which we don’t need,” said Scadron-Wattles.

In the past, events data were housed in one of those discrete databases, and the Image website directed event attendees to call the office to register. Registrations for two conferences—several hundred attendees—were handled by three interns and the program director. “Not customer friendly.”

Now participants register through Eventbrite, and the data is uploaded (manually) to Saleforce. It’s not seamless, but it’s an improvement, said Scadron-Wattles. “It’s worth [the extra steps because] we get new donors from any group we upload, which helps our totals from a fundraising standpoint.”

Today, Image has more data stored in Salesforce than ever before. The next step, according to Scadron-Wattles, is to look at upgrade pathways and journeys for individuals who engage with Image through its multiple programs. “Say you come in through our newsletter, a journal subscription, a conference or event, or you buy an e-book or access an online article. Where do we take you from there? How do we get you to engage in new ways, to make a gift and to further support Image?”

The discussions around customer journeys raise many questions, and the planning takes time. “The good news,” said Scadron-Wattles, “is that having gone through the Academy, we know we need to have a plan for this, and we know how to go about strategically mapping out how it’s going to work.”

With NTEN’s website redesign project underway, we took a step back and asked, “How do we know how our users use our site and what they want if we don’t ask? So we turned to the NTEN community, as we will continue to do at various stages of the redesign process, for your candid feedback about the NTEN website. We conducted a website survey with about 80 respondents, and conducted some one-on-one interviews with eleven members of the NTEN community. Here’s what you had to say.

First the good: While there’s definite improvements to be made, NTEN’s existing site does have clean appearance that is fairly simple to use.  As several users pointed out, keeping a clean, simple design should be key consideration in redesign so as not to detract from NTEN’s offerings. In general, people were able to conduct transactions (i.e. register for an event, renew their membership, etc.) with no problems, but it is a confusing, non-seamless transaction experience, both in terms of design interface and glitches in data sync between different systems.

Lots of users find NTEN content to be of high-quality, but it needs to be presented in a design that’s easier to digest and more attractive as a place to return to more often. Many people shared that the community groups provide a lot of value for them, so we would do well to put more community-generated content throughout the main site and highlight community-contributed articles more prominently. Membership information is easy to find, but the benefits can be highlighted more, and this is another opportunity to bring in visual content and feature more Member Stories.

The not-so good:

There’s too much text. The biggest pet peeve users cited was that NTEN is very-text heavy and not very engaging. More visual content would make the site much more useable, appealing, and easy-to-read. As one respondent wrote, [the site] “does not reflect the fun, caring, social personality of NTEN and the NTEN community. It should be much more “human,” much more “cool,” and should point much more quickly and easily to the resources people need (research, tools, community for questions, etc).”

The site is really hard to navigate. There’s a lot of resources, but it’s hard to find them, as the navigation drop-down menus aren’t very intuitive, and the search function doesn’t work well. Navigating across the different NTEN sites (myNTEN, myNTC, etc.) gets confusing and time-intensive. is not very mobile-friendly. Responsive design needs to be a key piece of the redesign so the site renders clearly on any device.

One user summed it up well, “NTEN tries to be everything to everybody. As a result, the site is overwhelming with a lengthy homepage, text-heavy content, and long drop-down menus that aren’t particularly intuitive result. Consider nailing it down to 3-5 key highlights of NTEN’s offerings or calls to action that switch on a daily basis to show the diversity of content and be responsive to different audiences by giving users a more personalized experience.”

Good Website Examples Suggested by Respondents:

  • New York Public Library uses an appealing block layout
  •‘s personalized user experience on their homepage. Like NTEN, they serve multiple audiences (e.g. beginning, intermediate, advanced users).
  • and both have an attractive, clear presentation of information

Key feedback from our users we’re prioritizing in our redesign:

  • Responsive design that is mobile friendly
  • Intutitive navigation and taxonomy
  • Robust search function
  • Clean, clear, and visually compelling layout
  • Community-centered design
  • Seamless user experience across all of NTEN’s sites

Thanks to everyone who gave us their feedback. Read more about our progress and stay tuned for the next web redesign update!

It’s summer here in the States, but we aren’t taking any vacations from our website relaunch project! We’ve been working away at this for a few months now and figured it was about time to send you a postcard.

Here’s a quick status update from our content team—inspired by the three daily scrum standup questions used in Agile development—about how things have been going and what’s next.

Progress made over the past six weeks:

  • Card sorting exercise at staff retreat. It was good for everyone to do this exercise in order to see and analyze the results, but also to refine the list of cards and approach when opening the exercise to the general community.
  • Community card sorting exercise. We are wrapping up the community card sorting exercise in August and will use the results to refine and inform the new information architecture of the site.
  • Content audit: We have started a content audit and have begun to feel overwhelmed by the amount of content currently available on the site. Not coincidentally, we have discovered a need for a content expiration strategy.
  • Dreamt: It’s not all a tired slog – we’ve been dreaming up some great features! Our IT Director Karl says he’s most excited about “a streamlined profile creation and management process, clear engagement paths for site visitors, and a consistent and mobile friendly feel across our entire web presence.”
  • Built our team: We hired a content strategist, Gwydion Suilebhan, to help us work through our many, many issues. And Philip Krayna, our long-time partner in design, will be aided in the graphic redesign by the brilliant design minds at Cornershop Creative. We’re very excited to have their help!

What we plan to do by mid-September:

  • Finish content audit and have our plan for archiving/migrating
  • Send our proposed site architecture to designers for use in wireframing/usability validation

Possible roadblocks:

  • With over 8,000 pieces of content, the biggest challenge we’re staring down right now is how to manage that content audit.

While this has been happening, our community feedback team has invested lots of time in surveys and interviews. We’ll have an update from them soon. In the meantime, thank you to everyone who responded to our RFP and participated in the card sorting exercise and survey. We can’t wait to launch this and appreciate your interest in this process. Happy August!

After thinking and talking about it for a long time, this year we at NTEN are finally beginning a website overhaul and re-launch in earnest. After all, the nonprofit association for people working at the intersections of tech and social change should have a website to match that mission and vision. Follow along as we chronicle the joys and occasional headaches.

NTEN is excited to announce we will be working with Pongos Interactive to implement our new site. Pongos is a WordPress development firm located in Maryland.

The decision to move from Drupal to WordPress was not taken lightly. NTEN has deep ties with the Drupal community and has been on the Drupal platform for years. However, while we plan to continue our support of the Drupal community as much as ever, we decided for our own website redesign that WordPress was the better option.

One of the primary factors behind this decision was our need to create a strong integration between our CRM (Abila’s netFORUM) and our content management system. With WordPress, we were able to find an existing and fully tested integration that we could build on top of. With Drupal on the other hand, while building an integration was possible, it would have needed to be developed mostly from scratch, which would have been much more difficult and expensive.

Another factor that weighed heavily in this decision came up once we started analyzing our actual website needs. While Drupal still seems to have the edge in overall functionality, it turns out we don’t really need any of those additional features, and in the end found that WordPress was more than capable of meeting our needs while at the same time being more accessible to our end users.

We are now in the planning stages of this rebuild and are looking for help from our community.

  • Website survey – we have a survey live on the site now. Please – we need to hear from you to be sure we are building the right thing!
  • Usability testing – we will be doing a lot of usability testing over the summer and early fall. Please contact Jessica ( if you would be willing to participate.
  • Content Strategist – we are looking for a consultant to advise on content strategy and information architecture. More information is available here
  • Graphic Designer  – we are looking for a graphic designer for the website. More information is available here

Read our previous blog post here.

After thinking and talking about it for a long time, this year we at NTEN are finally beginning a website overhaul and re-launch in earnest. After all, the nonprofit association for people working at the intersections of tech and social change should have a website to match that mission and vision. Follow along as we chronicle the joys and occasional headaches.

In our first installment, NTEN’s IT Director, Karl Hedstrom, and Operations Director, Jessica Holliday, answer a few questions about what we’re setting out to do, and how, and why…

Julia: Why a new NTEN website? Why now?

Karl: This project actually goes beyond just a new website and is really more of a web presence redesign. One of the biggest issues we’ve faced for a long time is a complete lack of integration between our CRM and CMS, meaning it’s very difficult to direct our community towards the content they’re most interested in. Furthermore, across our multiple online platforms and websites, there’s little to no design consistency, and the transitions between the sites are clunky at best. Finally, and perhaps most glaringly, none of our sites have a real responsive design, making them difficult or impossible to access on a mobile device.

As far as timing, while we probably should have tackled some of these issues years ago (e.g. responsive design, consistent theme), for other issues like building an integration between our CRM and CMS, until now there weren’t really great solutions available that met both our needs and our budget. However, as technology and the available tools have progressed, we’re now finally able to tackle all these issues in a comprehensive way and within a budget that our board will actually approve.

What are the specific pain points and challenges you hope to overcome through this re-launch? I’m curious both about the big picture but also about the little things that YOU are personally most excited about/invested in.

Jessica: Mostly it’s really fun, and a bit intimidating, to get this chance to work on a great new web presence and finally address some longstanding technical and design issues. I am excited about being really open about our approach and our processes, both as a way to get a great product out there and as a learning tool. We have a fantastic opportunity to leverage all the knowledge in our community and get lots of expert feedback along the way.

Karl: I already mentioned some of the pain points above, but in general the main issues we’re hoping to address with this website redesign are:

  • Making our sites mobile-friendly with a responsive design

  • Giving our overall web presence a consistent and purposeful design and feel

  • Integrating our various systems to make for a smooth and seamless experience on the front end

  • Overhauling our content strategy to make sure it’s as easy as possible for our users to find the information they’re looking for or to accomplish whatever task they set out to do (e.g., register for an event, become a member, connect with their peers)

What data helped name the problems that we’ll try to solve, and what data will guide our decisions throughout this process?

We have loads of anecdotal data from the last few years based on emails and phone calls from our community members who weren’t able to do “X” on our website. Then we’re also in the process of diving into the actual hard data available to us through Google Analytics and a full content audit; we will supplement this further with targeted interviews and surveys for the community to help weigh in on various parts of the project.

How long has this been brewing? What did you do to prepare for the first all-staff meeting about this?

Karl: A “website redesign” has been brewing for at least the last 2 years, but it finally got the kick it needed when Jessica and I attended the AUDC (Avectra Users and Developers Conference) in March and saw some demos of how our CRM (Avectra’s netFORUM) could smoothly integrate with a CMS like WordPress.

Then, at the 14NTC, I attended a session titled Progressive Enchantment: Crafting a Responsive Design presented by Daniel Ferro, Sean Powell, and Karin Tracy, where they actually had redesigned NTEN’s website as a case study for how responsive design could be used to modernize a very outdated website. This was my first introduction into the details behind responsive design, and it was a real eye-opener for how badly our website really did need an update.

Jessica: We field a lot of calls in the office that could be unnecessary if we had a more straight forward user experience. And I worry a lot about the folks who don’t call—who just get frustrated and give up. A better website is going to really help us serve our members and encourage new ones.

Our team is small, just a dozen people. How will we divide responsibilities among the team? What are the next steps?

Jessica: We wanted to make sure that all staff are engaged with this project, bringing their perspectives and growing their skills. At our first meeting about the site relaunch, we divided into four “committees” that are doing user research as part of a discovery process and will report back at our annual all-staff retreat. They are:

1) Analytics—analyze our Google Analytics data to better understand how people are using our current site, who they are, and what they are trying to do/find. This is a quantitative approach to defining our target audiences…

2) Interviews—use in-person and online surveys to understand how people are using our current site and what they would like to see in a new site.

3) Content—this committee is both backwards-looking (performing an audit of our current content) and forward-looking (sculpting a new content strategy). The content committee will facilitate a card-sorting exercise at our upcoming all-staff retreat.

4) Reporting—this committee is ensuring our processes are documented and shared with the NTEN community.

How do you see us addressing all of this, and by when?

Jessica: The plan is to have each committee present their report at the all-staff retreat this week. We hope to have the bulk of user research finished at the end of June and move on to building an information architecture and initial prototyping. We will refine the design throughout the summer and move to implementation in late September. Fingers crossed!

Who else will be involved other than staff?

We really do want to hear from our community! We want to present opportunities to not only suggest features but also be involved on a really hands-on level. You can help us by answering a few questions about how we could improve If you’re interested in providing more feedback in a phone interview, email us your contact information, and we’ll get in touch with you.

We’ve also dug up some good-looking online tools to open up usability testing. And we’ll certainly be turning to our knowledgeable community as we contemplate some of our trickier questions, whether through the NTEN Discuss list, surveys, or other nifty tools we discover. And please, please share your favorite go-to resources with us.

We at NTEN would all love to hear from community members who have recently undergone site design projects. Have a taxonomy horror story? Design triumph? Or a question for Jessica and Karl? Share in the comments section below!

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.

In January 2013, the Communities of Impact kicked off with a retreat at Microsoft Headquarters in Redmond, WA. While there, we held a Failfaire-style conversation about times when our best-laid plans went awry.

For one participant, this was a chance to reflect on how a massive project taught him that there really is no such thing as an end result. At Parents as Teachers, a project that began seven years ago may never be finished – and that might be OK.

NTEN: Richard, tell us about PAT, your role there, and the data management system.

Richard Wollenberger (RW): PAT helps organizations and professionals work with parents during the critical early years of their children’s lives, from conception to kindergarten. I’m the IT Director. We have 65 staff and an annual budget of about $11 million.

When I came on board in 2006 PAT had been using a homemade database to track trainings and certifications. The tool was well-built to immediately handle whatever needs someone came up with, but ill-conceived in terms of long-range scalability and expandability. (One example: Every year, we train 500-700 people across the country. Every trainee had to fill out a registration form of two to 10 pages by hand and fax it in, and then someone on our end had to do data entry.) Then we hit a physical limit in the system that there was no way around.

I suggested that the CEO, my boss, meet with the business managers to tell her why the existing system didn’t meet their needs. I wanted it to be clear that this wasn’t a case of IT needs something to do and needs a budget for it. Each department got to outline their needs as business priorities. And in 2007, we brought a vendor in to meet the board, explain the project, do a needs analysis, and build a customized CRM system based on the Microsoft Dynamics CRM and Sharepoint.

NTEN: Then things went wrong. What happened?

RW: In fall 2007, a change in financial leadership revealed that mistakes had been made that led us to think we were in a better financial position than we were. Our budget fell apart, 15% of staff was let go, and the project was postponed. Months went by; we focused on other things and made do with our old system.

However, in 2008, PAT was able to hire a consultant to help us with an organization-wide SWOT analysis and a study of the early childhood education environment. I talked to the consultant about how technology could be a solution in different areas. Normally IT isn’t in a strategic plan; it’s a means to achieve your strategic plan. But in this case, using modern technology effectively became a pillar in our 2009-2012 strategic plan.

Then one day my boss said, I know you think I’ve forgotten about this, but I want to show you something. She picked up a folder where shed kept her notes regarding a new data management system. Our organization’s 25 year anniversary was coming up in 2009, and I was able to work with our fundraising team to secure grants as well as a commitment from the board for a capital campaign to finance the project. In 2011, we finally went live with the new online system.

NTEN: And what have been the results?

RW: On the plus side: We’ve reduced the number of systems we use from 13 to four. We moved all technical communication between those systems to automated processes, reduced our carbon footprint by eliminating faxed/printed forms, cut the time it takes to register for a training (from three to four weeks to instant!), and we’ve freed our staff from simple data entry. They’re now knowledge workers who can work with data entered by our customers.

But there are drawbacks. Any system like this is feature-laden and complex. It was beyond our ability to properly comprehend. We’ve set up so many rules and regulations that some departments hit snafus if others take certain actions in the system.

NTEN: What advice would you offer someone who is considering implementing a data management system like yours?

RW: When you’re trying to automate business processes, you must have them documented. And if you don’t have them written, create them before you try to automate them.

Documentation and communication are more critical than ever. The best thing about collaborating has been meeting with different departments to create our flowcharts. When we talk about these little nuances of the process, we realize that a step might mean different things in four other departments. To hear a topic discussed from all of those perspectives was eye-opening. In our old world they weren’t connected.

NTEN: What happened after you reflected on this in our session about failure?

RW: I remembered that everyone in our field can relate to not having the success they wanted at something. And I realized that this is a process, and there really is no such thing as an end result. A project has an end, but most nonprofits (hopefully) won’t. The real result is continuous improvement. And you have to celebrate whatever successes you do have.

Peter Campbell of Legal Services Corporation shares his biggest data fail, and what he’d do differently now.

  • If I’m the IT Director, I can’t be the developer.
  • Get organizational commitment.
  • Don’t compromise on a vision for expediency’s sake.

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.

Note: names and dates have been omitted to protect the innocent.

Years ago, I was hired at an organization that had a major database that everyone hated. My research revealed a case study in itself: how not to roll out a data management system. Long story short, they had bought a system designed to support a different business model and then paid integrators to customize it beyond recognition. The lofty goal was to have a system that would replace people talking to each other. And the project was championed by a department that would not have to do the data entry; the department identified to do all of the work clearly didn’t desire the system.

The system suffered from a number of problems. It was designed to be the kitchen sink, with case info, board updates, contact management, calendaring, web content management, and other functions. The backend was terrible: a SQL database with tables named after the tabs in the user interface. The application itself had miserable search functionality, no dupe checking, and little in the way of data quality control. Finally, there were no organizational standards for data entry. Some people regularly updated information; others only went near it when nagged before reporting deadlines. One person’s idea of an update was three to five paragraphs; another’s two words.

I set out to replace it with something better. I believed (and will always believe) that we needed to build a custom application, not buy a commercial one and tweak it. What we did was not the same thing that the commercial systems were designed to track. But I did think wed do better building it with consultants on a high-level platform than doing it by ourselves from scratch, so I proposed that we build a solution on Salesforce. The system had over 150 users, so this would be relatively expensive.

Timing is everything: I made my pitch the same week that financial news indicated that we were diving into a recession. Budgets were cut. Spending was frozen. And I was asked if I could build the system in Access, instead? And this is when I explained to my boss that we should table the project until we had the budget to support it.

Or so I wish. Instead, I dusted off my amateur programming skills and set out to build the system from scratch. I worked with a committee of people who knew the business needs, and I developed about 90% of a system that wasn’t attractive but did what needed to be done reasonably well. The goals for the system were dramatically scaled back to simply what was required.

Then I requested time with the department managers to discuss data stewardship. I explained to the critical VP that my system, like the last one, would only be as good as the data put into it, so we needed to agree on the requirements for an update and the timeliness of the data entry. We needed buy-in that the system was needed and that it would be properly maintained. Sadly, the VP didn’t believe that this was necessary and refused to set aside time in any meeting to address it. Their take was that the new system would be better than the old one, so we should just start using it.

This was where I had failed. My next decision was probably a good one: I abandoned the project. While my system would have been easier to manage (due to the scaled back functionality, a simple, logical database structure and a UI that included auto-complete and dupe-checking), it was going to fail, too, because, as every techie knows, garbage in equals garbage out. I wanted my system to be a success. We went on with the flawed original system, and eventually started talking about a new replacement project, and that might have happened, but I left the company.

Lessons learned:

  1. If I’m the IT Director, I can’t be the developer. There was a lot of fallout from my neglected duties.
  2. Get the organizational commitment to the project and data quality standards confirmed before you start development.
  3. Don’t compromise on a vision for expediency’s sake. There are plenty of times when it’s okay to put in a quick fix for a problem, but major system development should be done right. Timing is everything, and it wasn’t time to put in a data management system at this company.

Greenpeace’s Mobilisation Lab helps the organization transition into an era of people-powered campaigns. The right set of tools and an active social profile is helping Greenpeace to better support its community with campaigns that are community driven.

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.

NTEN: Tell us about how the MobLab fits into Greenpeace overall.

Michael Silberman (MS) and Wendee Parker (WP): We exist to help the global Greenpeace organization transition to a new era of people-powered campaigning shifting from Greenpeace-centric to supporter-centric campaigns. We’re working with staff in nearly 50 countries to design campaigns that enable the full power and potential of over 25 million supporters and activists to help us build stronger campaigns that win bigger. Our team has an independent budget to focus 100% on building capacity, challenging norms, sharing knowledge, and introducing new practices and tactics.

NTEN: Who are the Arctic 30, and how and why did MobLab get involved?

MS / WP: In September 2013, Russian security agents illegally boarded the Arctic Sunrise in international waters, seizing the ship and detaining all those on board at gunpoint. The ship was towed to Murmansk, and all those on board were locked up in cold, filthy cells, some of them in solitary confinement. They were charged with piracy and then hooliganism, crimes that carried lengthy prison sentences, because they dared to peacefully take action against destructive Arctic oil drilling and the onslaught of climate change, protesting at state-owned Gazprom’s Arctic drill platform in the Barents Sea. After 71 days in detention, the last of the Arctic 30 have been granted bail release, but severe piracy charges are still pending.

Some tools the MobLab provided to supporters of the Arctic 30

We got involved because there was a critical need to ensure that we were doing everything possible as an organization to help free these activists and leverage the global media spotlight to grow the campaign to save the Arctic. We added capacity to test new messages and tactics, and enable a global strategy brainstorm across offices and teams. Understanding how to effectively spread the messages by mobilizing new and existing supporters who connect with this cause through digital channels: thats what its all about.

NTEN: This has been a highly charged international incident. How have you baked principles of measurement and transparency into the campaign?

MS: We had to determine what could and should be measured. This campaign has been an opportunity to think about some of our limitations to measurement and tracking, and to have everyone really consider whats working and whats not.

WP: An informal group from several offices assembled for a week to take a look at our tools and platforms. It illuminated something many of us already knew: that consistency within digital engagement data was lacking. Trying to develop, implement, and execute a standard way to collect, track, and report on those digital efforts is an enormous challenge. The meetings gave us a good sense of our “universe” both the great effort our colleagues were already making in these areas, as well as opportunities to improve towards a complete, holistic point of view.

NTEN: Aside from this campaign, are there other wins you can pinpoint in these areas?

MS: There are over 100 active Greenpeace social accounts online. Were now seeing organizers include data analysis in their campaign planning. We at MobLab are still pushing, but it wouldnt get completely lost if we werent. Im also heartened by the fact that theres a lot of independent testing happening. People are using for A/B testing, for example, and then reporting the results to everyone else.

WP: The focus and culture has definitely shifted, but the job is not done. Success would be having digital analysis (starting at defining digital analytic goals, implementing digital tracking and analytic tools for ongoing reporting, testing and optimization, ending with a complete campaign wrap up analysis) fully adopted as part of the overall campaign planning process.

NTEN: You mentioned Are there other tools that stand out as particularly helpful (or that you wish were more helpful)?

MS: We have issues with our bulk email tool, which doesnt make A/B testing as easy as it could be. On the upside, were making good progress with Google Analytics and On social analytics, were using Radian6, Topsy Pro, and Facebook insights.

WP: Greenpeace’s situation is so complex. In every office you may find a different setup for supporter data, a different set of digital engagement tools, etc. Even within offices, data can be fragmented among departments. I’m not sure theres a “one size fits all” solution, but as we work towards a common framework and toolset, it lessens the challenges towards complete supporter data integration a place where all departments view the same data and can have shared goals and metrics.

NTEN: Where would you like to see your campaign leaders a year from today with regard to systems and culture?

MS: We always want to see the four essentials of a people-powered campaign. The end is not putting data at the center of our campaigns; the end is more engagement-oriented organizing. We put people at the center of our campaigns, but data is an enabling tool. If we can use data to more effectively move people along and support our journey more deeply, thats a success point.

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!

Policy Innovators in Education (PIE) Network

  • Membership of 45 organizations in 28 states and DC.
  • Seven full time staff.
  • Moving from a long, text-based annual report to a visual, interactive report increased views more than 400%

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.

NTEN: Eric, tell us about your work.

Eric Eagon (EE): With a membership of 45 organizations in 28 states and DC, we connect state-based education advocates to one another and to our national policy and advocacy partners. We do this through a variety of in-person and virtual networking opportunities. We also support advocates with targeted decision support tools and a social media presence that amplifies their work.

Im one of seven full-time staffers, and I came on board as a Senior Associate for Policy and Communications in September 2012.

NTEN: Whats one way you recently addressed a specific challenge related to data?

EE: We conduct an annual survey of our whole network. For our first few years, we used SurveyMonkey and then put all of the data into a massive report.

But it wasn’t getting much traction. When we looked at Google Analytics for the 2012 report, we saw just 82 views of the summary page and only one download. We had tons of information that could help our members collaborate with one another and plan better supports, but it wasn’t presented in an inviting, useful way.

NTEN: What did you do to fix or improve the situation?

EE: We made two major changes. We conducted phone interviews to supplement the online survey and capture more stories. We also created an interactive map to make it much simpler for our members to find what they need.

We launched the map at our conference this fall, creating interest among our 300+ attendees. We also led webinars; refer people back to it whenever possible; and now track the Google Analytics on the map to see how people are using it.

NTEN: Wow! How did you make it happen?

EE: The Deputy Director and I handled most of the policy work and ran the annual survey. Then, with our summer Fellow and Communications Director, we conducted 50 phone interviews that each lasted 30+ minutes, plus additional time for participants to edit our notes.

That summer, we happened to begin contracting with new website developers, a shop called Punk Ave based in Philadelphia. They had created one map for us, and we asked if they could use the same format for a new one.

We entered all of the survey and interview data into the new map so that members can sort by year and policy issue. Bills show up in green if they passed, red if not, orange if they’re pending. Members can view summaries of bills, who worked on them, lessons learned, related resources, and contact info.

NTEN: How did you get buy-in from the rest of your team?

EE: There was some concern, especially because the work coincided with our conference, which is an all-hands-on-deck initiative. Did we have time and capacity to do this? Could it wait for next year?

But the previous report had only been downloaded once. Punk Ave could build a shell into which we could add more details over time, rather than providing all of the data up front. And our Fellow could handle the data entry once it was built. Ultimately, we decided this was a priority. We try to make sure that all of our work is driven by member demand and needs.

NTEN: What went well? Do you have data to prove it?

EE: The map is much more engaging than a 50-page report. In less than three months since the launch, we’ve had over 350 unique views, many return visits, and good anecdotal feedback from members.

The interviews went well because we’ve been very intentional about building and maintaining trust with people in our network. This map is not available to the general public. Its password-protected for members only. People were candid because they trust that this is for the betterment of the education reform movement more broadly.

NTEN: What didn’t go so well? What do you still need to work on?

EE: We’ve made one minor change so far, tweaking the policy categories on the survey and map. We want to keep those as consistent as possible year to year.

We also need to streamline the lengthy interview process. We may need to begin with a quick conversation, then ask people to fill out the survey and capture most of the stories there.

NTEN: Do you have data that will help inform your next moves?

EE: We wanted to better understand our members policy priorities for 2014, so we sent personal emails to 50+ policy directors with a request to fill out another survey. We’ve seen a response rate of over 80% so far, and are integrating these responses into the existing policy map. As legislative sessions start in 2014, we also plan to make updates and even share resources in real time so that the map becomes more of a legislative tracking tool.

This is all in the name of not reinventing the wheel and sharing resources among our membership. It also helps us to reflection and plan.

NTEN: Any advice you’d offer to someone who wanted to tackle a big project like this?

EE: Make sure theres demand from your members. And as you design it, put yourself in their shoes. We asked ourselves:

  • What goals do our state advocates have?
  • What tools do they currently use?
  • How do they get the information they need?
  • Can we share mock-ups and beta versions of the tool?

Overall, the way we conducted the 2013 survey was much more labor intensive, but yielded something much more useful.