Using Data to Drive Donations: key findings from our work with DataKind

By Alison Carlman, in partnership with Miriam Young from DataKind

Recently we worked with DataKind to analyze project data from our website to learn what our nonprofit partners can do to maximize their potential for donations.

A project page on GlobalGiving.org

 

If you’ve ever visited more than a few pages on GlobalGiving, you’ll know that our project pages are the main hub of all fundraising activity on the web platform. Project pages are the pages where organizations describe their needs and give their best pitch to attract potential donors. We recently worked with a team of DataKind volunteers to analyze our data, helping us identify what impacts a nonprofit’s fundraising success.

How can organizations maximize their donations on GlobalGiving?

We already use data to drive our work (after all, our chief core value is Listen, Act, Learn. Repeat.), but we wanted to go deeper using data science (and some excellent data scientists) to uncover what leads to nonprofits successfully reaching their fundraising goals. We hope to use this information as we refine our search algorithm to help donors find projects they’re most interested in and also help nonprofits maximize their ability to attract donors.

Data science uses statistical and computational analysis to turn unwieldy amounts of data into actionable information to guide organizational decision making. Think of the many online services you use like LinkedIn, Netflix, or Amazon. These companies already use data generated by users on their sites to better serve their customers – making recommendations to help you use their services more effectively. We’re doing the same thing, using the same data science techniques that companies use to boost profits to advance our mission.

We first participated in a DataKind weekend DataDive, supported by Teradata, last October to do initial analysis of our project data to determine what factors led to projects being successfully funded. The team then handed off its findings to another team of DataKind volunteers – Jon Roberts, Ana Areias, Tim Rich, and Nate MacNamara – for a multi-month project to uncover insights about donor behavior that would help optimize our search ranking algorithm.

So what do nonprofits that fundraise successfully on GlobalGiving have in common? Many things: they get high traffic on their project page, they have a strong social media presence and a broad base of followers outside GlobalGiving. We wanted to hone in on the component it we could influence the most – the project page. Improving the project page itself with even minor tweaks, or providing nonprofits with tips backed by data can have a huge impact on fundraising success over time.

The DataKind volunteer team worked closely with our tech team to analyze which aspects of the project page led to higher conversion rates for donors. Looking at data from more than 4,000 project pages that had at least 100 visitors each, the volunteers looked for patterns and useful insights that could help us guide partners on best practices for maximizing donations.

Key learnings

The DataKind team looked at a variety of features of the project page, including project title, funding amount, number of donors, photos, length and content of project summaries. What impact, if any, did these things have on the project reaching its funding goal? The team found a few factors that had a clear influence on a project’s conversion or donation rate:

1. A “call-to-action” in the project summary 

There is a 14% higher conversion rate for projects that included a call-to-action in the project summary. Surprisingly, however, putting a call-to-action in the project title did not appear to make an impact on a project’s conversion rate. Titles may be important for getting traffic to a project, but it appears the project summary is king when it comes to inspiring people to give on GlobalGiving.

2. Longer project summaries (30-35 words)

Going against the traditional wisdom that short and sweet is always best, the team actually found that a project’s conversion rate increased with project summary length. To a point. But there is a sweet spot of 30-35 words, as summaries longer than 35 words encountered diminishing returns.

3. Specific language

At the DataDive, volunteers did text analysis of various project pages and found a correlation between specificity of language and a nonprofit’s project fundraising success. For example, nonprofits raised less money when they used generic words like funding for the “arts” versus a specific project like “a photography exhibit.”

4. Higher fundraising goals ($25,000-$50,000)
There seems to be a sweet spot of $25,000-$50,000 being correlated with increased conversion rates. This implies organizations should set their project goal in this range where possible and, if more funds are needed, launch a second project in the same range instead of simply increasing the original project’s requested amount.

Now, as any good stats student knows, correlation is not causation. All of these findings were based on inferential analysis of GlobalGiving’s existing data, which means we don’t know if these factors actually caused increased conversion rates. Nevertheless, the findings offer powerful information for our team to experiment with as we make recommendations for our partners going forward.

Start your journey

This project might also get you thinking about what hidden learnings are in your data. Data is everywhere. Your organization may have a web platform ours where you’re constantly generating data, or may have other sources like program intake forms, surveys or social media analytics. And don’t forget the wide range of publicly-available data provided by government agencies and others that can shed light into how your organization can maximize its impact.

If you’re interested in learning how your organization can tap the power of data science to improve your efforts, check out NTEN’s Data Community of Practice, Data Analysts for Social Good or reach out to the DataKind team at contact@datakind.org for advice on how to get started. If you think a data science project might help you scale your work, apply on the DataKind website for support!

All data science journeys begin with a question. What question will help your organization move the needle on the issue you care most about? DataKind love to help you answer it.

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