Tag: website analytics

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.

Find out how a web redesign helped Maine Conservation Voters move from managing voting record information on paper to an easily accessible system built into their web architecture.

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: Gianna, tell us about your work at Maine Conservation Voters (MCV).

Gianna Short (GS): MCV plays a critical role in turning public support for conservation into new laws to protect our air, land, water, and wildlife. I’m the Data and Communications Coordinator so most of my work is done in front of the computer. However, there are only four of us on staff, along with a couple of consultants and interns, so I end up doing all kinds of other things. Our budget is under $400,000 per year.

NTEN: How are you working to make your data more publicly accessible?

GS: We’ve been publishing an Environmental Scorecard for the Maine State Legislature highlighting environmental bills and votes since 1986. This is valuable information in politics, and without fail, when an election is approaching, reporters and campaign managers call MCV to ask for a particular candidates score on environmental issues. We literally have been pulling old paper copies of the Scorecard off the shelf and tallying up scores for different sessions by hand, which is cumbersome to say the least.

Making this robust dataset more accessible is a new challenge, but also an exciting opportunity. We distribute our Environmental Scorecard to 13,000, but believe it could be useful to many more people. It’s great data that is unique to our organization. We have a different tax status than most environmental nonprofits which allows us to publish this kind of information and really sets us apart. You can learn so much about a legislator by examining these votes through the years.

NTEN: Why tackle this now?

GS: We’ve been redesigning our site over the past year, so I’ve worked with our web developer to build an easily accessible way to house all of that data directly into the website architecture. Our national partners at the League of Conservation Voters also recently relaunched their website with comprehensive voting records. We’re looking toward that as a model for our site.

NTEN: What did you do with the data to make this happen?

GS: Each legislator has several votes per year, and many serve several terms, in both houses, during multiple different time periods. It can get confusing. We had to determine the best type of relational setup to use in order to make the data searchable and coherent. Our web developer ended up creating a pretty ingenious system over the last few months. It’s both versatile and simple to use.

NTEN: How long did this take, how much has it cost, and how will you measure success?

GS: We started brainstorming the redesign in the summer of 2013. The new site will be finished in December with a total budget under $4,000.

So far, we have scorecard data since 2011 up on the site, and it seems to be working well. Now it’s just a matter of data entry for all the preceding years, and quadruple checking for accuracy.

One way well gauge success is by using Google Analytics to see who is using the site and how they are interacting with our content. People tend to find us when they use search engines to look for Maine legislators. If this type of visitor then clicks on a specific bill page and reads about an issue, thats a success. If the visitor then takes action by writing an email to her legislator about the issue, that’s a huge success.

NTEN: Who else from your organization was involved?

GS: Our web developer Lauren Meir and I basically did the whole project ourselves. MCV’s office culture is built on trust, so I have almost total autonomy over the web realm. This is wonderful and terrifying at the same time, and has been a great professional challenge for me. I am starting to do some hallway testing with the staff and board members now that the site is up.

NTEN: You’ve been working hard to create a more data-informed culture at MCV. What advice would you offer to others at small nonprofits like yours?

GS: Learn what other successful nonprofits are doing with data, and present that information in an inspiring way to your coworkers. Show your office what these other organizations are doing better, and then offer to take the lead on trying something new. With a little intra-sector competitive spirit, and the knowledge that what you want to introduce has been tried and tested by others already, people can get pretty excited about new ideas.

Data Analysts for Social Good

  • Breaking down data silos.
  • You don’t have to be a data analyst, but you will need to know how to collect and understand data.
  • You don’t have to use the best tools right away. It’s alright to say “This is the best tool for now.”

Andrew Means launched Data Analysts for Social Good in his spare time to address a need – a better understanding of how to use data not just to maximize inputs, but to show the importance of data to support organizations functioning more efficiently and effectively.

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: Andrew, you’ve spoken with NTEN before about your experiences with data at the YMCA of Metro Chicago. Now you work at Groupon and spend a lot of your spare time launching Data Analysts for Social Good (DASG), which offers webinars, a LinkedIn group, and an annual conference. Why did you start DASG?

Andrew Means (AM): I saw no one talking about data well. Fundraising analysts, marketing analysts, program evaluation people…everyone was so siloed. We were all using the same skills, underlying tools and methods, but applying them to different parts of our organizations. Data shouldn’t be siloed to one team or one person who pulls lists. The real power of analytics and social science research is that you can address a number of questions using the same kinds of tools and skills. And most organizations don’t know where to begin. We have very little human capital around this in the nonprofit sector although this has grown immensely over the past couple of years. DataKind and others are doing phenomenal work connecting data scientists to nonprofits, but the long-term solution is to have the next generation of executive directors, nonprofit leaders, and people entering the sector really understand these tools from the get-go.

NTEN: How are you creating a data-informed culture as you grow DASG and prepare for your second annual Do Good Data conference?

AM: The hard thing about starting an organization is that you have no data to begin with, so you have to create your own. I’m enough of an analyst to know my data points are really weak. But I try to use data as much as possible to generate content. I put out a survey in the early stages of planning the second conference, asking potential attendees what they want to learn. Now, as I line up conference speakers, I can look at that survey to make sure I’m delivering.

Another example: Every two weeks or so I send an email out to my list. I track click-to-open rates to make sure I’m giving people what they want, and sending these at effective times of day on the best days of the week. I used to believe that I should send all emails at 5:00 a.m. so that they’d be in my subscribers inboxes first thing in the morning. But when I paid attention to the numbers, I started to see a bit of a jump in opens if I sent them in the early afternoon.

I use a lot of free tools: MailChimp for email, Eventbrite for RSVPs, Google Analytics, and Google Forms. They’re fine for now. Thats something not enough people really consider. Its OK to say I have what’s necessary. I don’t want to use it forever, but it works for now and I’m moving forward. It’s worth dipping your toes in the water.

NTEN: What else should people keep in mind as they dip their toes in?

AM: We live in a world that makes it possible to measure so much, from apps that track what we eat, to Fitbits that track where we go. How do we allow these things to inform us but not control us? With that in mind, I ask myself: Is my community growing? How many people can I reach through social media? When are the best times of day to do that? Did this email outperform the list average? Its not super formal; I’m letting the data inform me, but getting the email out is more important than succumbing to analysis paralysis.

NTEN: That said, you are looking to grow DASG strategically. How do you see yourself professionalizing this organization? Is that the goal?

AM: DASG started as a happy hour 18 months ago when I sent out a few tweets. I have been surprised by its success. It’s easy to get caught up just doing the work of running a growing organization; I forget to step back and look at, say, the Eventbrite data from the past year which can help me analyze which webinars performed best. I want to standardize my email practices and create standard surveys for all webinars. I got a tremendous response when I surveyed the people who came to our first conference. So it’s about taking the time to collect the data but also to reflect on it. And for me, that’s about rhythms: taking the time weekly or monthly to reflect and plan.

NTEN: If you hired an employee, what rhythm would you want them to be in? What would you ask them to regularly report to you?

AM: Right now email is big. I’d definitely ask for regular reports on:

  • Revenue, since we have to make sure this is sustaining itself
  • Attendance at webinars and events
  • List growth for both email and LinkedIn

Where people on both the email list and LinkedIn are coming from geographically. In 2014, I’d love to do more events outside Chicago. I need to see where we have the highest concentration of subscribers.

NTEN: Why is it so important to you to create spaces where people can come together and talk data with their peers?

AM: Everyone is talking about data, but not in ways that will benefit us in the long term. Of course there are some organizations I really respect. But too often, analytics are used to maximize our inputs, not our outcomes. We use data to raise more money, attract more donors, and send effective direct mail campaigns. I’m not seeing data applied as rigorously to help us think about actually being better organizations. We need to step back and think critically about what we exist to do.

  • Oakland, CA
  • 15 staff plus educators around the country

When the Alliance for Climate Education wanted to use data to measure impact and engagement, among other uses, it turned to consultants for help—first Seattle-based Groundwire Consulting, and then Percolator Consulting, a Groundwire spinoff. The award-winning national nonprofit is dedicated to using fun-based methods to educate America’s high school students about the science behind climate change, and inspiring them to do something about it. The organization is based in Oakland, Calif., with teams in New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Washington, DC, Atlanta, New England, Colorado, Nevada, North Carolina and Wisconsin.

“The Alliance is a super fun organization, and very data savvy,” said Karen Uffelman, who worked with the organization first at Groundwire and later at Percolator, the small firm she started with another former Groundwire worker. “They’re really good at presenting material in a way thats entertaining and interesting.”

Karen said ACE is using data to a number of ends, including measuring impact and helping to evolve program offerings to make decisions about what’s working and what isn’t to inform future program plans. The primary program offering involves sending educators into high schools in 14 states to give assembly presentations about the climate.

They use data to determine who among the students is most likely to become a leader and step up to take on the mantle, she said. “They pay a lot of attention to skills and performance. The educators ask students to take an initial shallow commitment of doing just one thing, and once they make that commitment the organization uses technology very successfully to get people plugged into the system.”

The next step is getting involved at the school level with a sustainability club. The students partner with volunteers and educators within the schools to mentor the sustainability club, and once thats happened, the organization asks those clubs to make commitments, too.

“They have staff touching base with those clubs over time and figuring out who those leaders are within those clubs,” Karen said. “And they have training opportunities, too. So they can track from very shallow engagement up to being spokespeople on climate issues on the national level, and see what that looks like.”

ACE uses a Salesforce database and has a tool within Salesforce that helps track engagement. Staff organizers use dashboards to see how they’re doing building engagement at each level of the engagement pyramid. Groundwire came up with the idea of the engagement pyramid as a framework to help organizations think about all the people in their communities or all the audiences with which they work. Built upon an old-fashioned fundraising and organizing principle, it differs from an engagement ladder in that it focuses on all audiences rather than one.

The Alliance also uses engagement-related data for fundraising, Karen said, but her work with the organization has focused on using data to track engagement to see whats working and whats not.

“They have a data team, and all their organizers are required to use Salesforce so that anyone doing any kind of relationship-building is putting information into the database,” she said. “The engagement strategist on staff and two others work really hard to track all the people in the database.”

“At Groundwire, we initially did a lot of work… to help them think through what the definition should be for each level of their engagement pyramid. Their audiences grow from one kind of audience to anotherfor example, the students they reach in high school are going to be alumni, which is not the audience that is the focus of their primary offering, but they will be important for going out in the world for what the Alliance set out to do in the first place: making decisions and effecting change.”

The organization wanted to be able to track the ways it could build, maintain, and cultivate relationships with people after they graduated from high school as well as while they were in school, and Groundwire helped build two pyramids for the two audiences. A contact has to graduate from one pyramid to the other as far as engagement is concerned, and Groundwire helped implement that transition in the Salesforce database.

“We did a lot of thinking about how to help them evaluate progress,” Karen said. Her new outfit, Percolator Consulting, is continuing the work Groundwire started.

“Now that they’re actually measuring over time, some of their assumptions are proving wrong, and were helping them adjust those and rethink them, she said. They’re also launching new programs all the time. We help them think about what the engagement function is… and how it complements other programs.”

“The Alliance started by being very thoughtful about certain kinds of data. All the organizations educators have specific goals about how many kids they’re trying to reach, how many schools, and how many school districts they’re building partnerships in, for example.”

‘They’ve been thoughtful about that since the beginning,’ she said. ‘They were very focused on getting to a goal of reaching X number of high school students with the assumption that would be enough to reach their ultimate vision. That model evolved over time as the young organization adapted.”

“We worked on the theory of change with them at Groundwire to help them be very crystal clear about what they believe their actions are resulting in and making sure they can test those results,” she said. “They evolved in their thinking about what it was they needed to be measuring and how long they wanted us to continue with cultivation and relationship-building with each student. It wasn’t a matter of talking to them once, it was more, We have started leaders down this path, we have more to give them as an organization to help them grow into adulthood.”

“Often when we go in and work with an organization thats been around for a long time, many times those are the organizations that have the hardest time shifting culturally to embrace letting the data help them evaluate how well they are doing and meeting their mission,” Karen said. “It goes back to the whole theory of change idea… Many people have a bias toward their theory of change but are never able to show that their bias is provable and true. That’s why we start with the theory of change.”

This case study is part of the research project in 2012 conducted by NTEN with the help of Idealware. See the State of Nonprofit Data report for more information about how nonprofits are–and aren’t–making data part of their decision-making processes, and the key challenges that affect an organization’s ability to be more effectively “data-driven.”

Anyone who knows me knows I’m a data nerd. And the organization I work for recently passed our four-year mark using Google Analytics.

And I’ve been thinking about adaptive web design of late. A recent Content Strategists Meetup covered content management challenges in an adaptive world:

We suddenly need to reshape, rethink, and redesign our content to work on smartphones, tablets, apps, social channels, eBooks, and more including what’s yet to come.

So I decided to pull the data on how our website visitors’ choice of web browsers, operating systems, and screen resolution has changed over the past four years. The results are pretty conclusive in terms of demonstrating needs for adaptive web design and cross-browser compatibility.

Just four years ago the majority of our visitors saw our website in Internet Explorer on a Windows computer on a minimum 1,024 pixel wide screen. Times have really changed.

  • Windows users used to comprise 93.5% of our web visits. Now that percentage is 72.4%. Visitors using a Mac have more than tripled.
  • The percentage visiting from a mobile device or tablet (iPhone, Android, iPad, iPod, or Blackberry) was just 0.1% in 2008. It has since grown exponentially, 200-400% per year, to 6.2% today.
  • Four years ago 75.5% of our web visitors used Internet Explorer. That number has fallen to 37%. Firefox now comprises 25.5%, Safari 19.5%, and Chrome 15.3%.
  • In the second quarter of 2008 we detected 71 different screen resolutions among our visitors. In the first quarter of 2012 we detected 830.

I won’t write at length about the content challenges this presents, others have already covered that eloquently. I’ll just say that our data reaffirms that the challenges are real.

The following numbers are a snapshot of one website’s traffic between April 2008 and March 2012. Download the spreadsheet here or keep reading to compare charts.


This article was originally published at http://blog.jasonsamuels.net/post/21633531278/analytics-confirm-the-need-for-adaptive-web-design-and and is reprinted with permission.

Fact: Each search engine has its own algorithm
Don’t believe me? Type a bunch of search terms into Google, and try the same thing in Yahoo. Search engines are optimized to different classes of users and terms. Some users swear that searches in Yahoo are more accurate, but Google has more data on what people click on in response to a search engine – the power of the people.

Fiction: You can pay to have your website achieve a certain placement in the search engines.
While there is a list of widely accepted actions that can help improve your “placement”, your ranking in response to any specific search term will vary. Search engine algorithms are complicated and change all the time. It was widely reported that in 2010, Google made over 500 algorithm changes – almost 1.5 per day. The changes to what comes up and in what order are all part of the search engine “arms race”. Everyone wants to improve their ranking (especially when money is involved) and new tricks are tried all the time. But search engines just want to be accurate. When tricks and new techniques begin to bias the results, the algorithms are changed to accommodate the evolving landscape.

Fact: Search Engines Care about Popularity
All those people can’t be (that) wrong… While the (mathematically determined) match between your search term(s) and all the content on “the internet” is a big component of what ends up being returned to you as search results, the more “popular” matches are favored. Popularity includes what people clicked on when they typed in a specific search term, as well as how frequently particular websites are visited.

Fiction: It’s all about the Meta-tags
Meta-tags are optional codes put onto web pages that contain descriptive information about the web page; they’re not visible to users (unless they know how to “View Source”). While meta-tags used to be important, some sites abused them (because you could put anything in these tags you like), they ended up containing not-so-relevant content. As a result, search engines now tend to discount meta-tags. That being said, you should pay attention to some meta-tags, as they will still display on search engines – in particular, the meta-description used for a snippet about your website.

Fact: You might just be unpopular.
It’s hard to accept, I know. But you might not be the best match to what people are looking for. The best way to understand this is to look at what people are actually looking for. Google’s webmaster tools allow you to see what search terms people are using. AdSense provides access to commonly used synonyms and suggests good words to incorporate into your content. There are other paid services that perform similar functions, such as WordTracker.

Fiction: If your site gets blacklisted by Google, you can fix it easily.
If your site gets infected, your traffic will be warned away. Not only is it hard to get rid of malicious scripting / malware, but you are put at Google’s mercy. There’s really no one to call. To add insult to injury, chances are you’ll have to pay someone to clean things up. What can you do to protect yourself? You might want to consider contracting for a website security audit.

Fact: Search Engines care about what’s important
What is important on your website? Well, your content is pretty important! If you have content that reflects your organization and someone is looking for what you do, that’s the best way to be found. Search engines also care about what cannot be “faked”: hidden text can be faked, but you wouldn’t change your domain name or page titles. There are many indicators, some big (like content) and some small (content farther down a page is assumed to be less important than what is on top). If other legitimate websites (and the search engines are pretty good at knowing who is legitimate and who is not) are pointing to you, this is important information, too. Being pointed to from a big traffic site will give you even greater “reflected glory”.

So, what can you do? Google has done a very nice job of trying to help you help yourself in increasing your internet presence. Check out Google’s SEO Starter Guide (PDF) or Maile Ohye’s ten minute video on the Google Developer’s Blog – SEO Essentials in 10 minutes.

Or come learn more by tuning in to our webinar on July 17th, “Increasing Your Organization’s Internet Presence“. We’ll talk about techniques tailored for organizations that want to be found when individuals are simply “surfing” the web, when individuals are at related websites, and/or when individuals are looking to get involved – for example, through donations of time or money. We’ll cover:

  • Search engines: How they work, how to raise your website’s visibility on the major search engines in use
  • Meta-Tags and other website Info: What information should be “behind” your website to ensure that it is found
  • Linkages: Why links from other sites are important, and how to find good places that will link to your site
  • Pitfalls: Things to make sure you don’t do if you want your website found