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Using Data to Drive Donations

Field Notes, MFG Archive

In our latest From The Field, Miriam Young from DataKind takes a look at how GlobalGiving, and DataKind's team of volunteers is using data to drive donations.


Online crowdfunding is becoming an increasingly popular way for nonprofits to reach new donors and enhance fundraising efforts. This exciting format brings with it new opportunities, but also questions about how best to take advantage to raise awareness and important funds for their cause.


Since 2002, the nonprofit GlobalGiving—a global crowdfunding community for nonprofits—has helped more than 6,000 nonprofits fund more than 11,000 projects in 160 countries with nearly $170 million from 400,000 donors, including major companies. They’ve supported everything from providing food and shelter to orphans in India to providing computers to Afghan girls.

“This exciting format brings with it new opportunities, but also questions about how best to take advantage to raise awareness and important funds for their cause.”

Project pages are the main hub of all fundraising activity on GlobalGiving, where organizations describe their needs and give their best pitches to attract potential donors. A team of DataKind volunteers recently completed a project with GlobalGiving to use its data to help identify what catalyzes fundraising success on a nonprofit’s project page.


This is a critical question for GlobalGiving, as they provide comprehensive support to nonprofits that use their platform on everything from best practices for successful crowdfunding campaigns to incentivizing overall organizational effectiveness of their partners through their Partner Rewards program.


To offer such rich and personalized support to its hundreds of partners worldwide, GlobalGiving depends on an equally rich and powerful resource: data.


Because GlobalGiving’s website tracks each project’s progress and each click of a potential donor, they have gathered a tremendous amount of information about donor behavior on their site. And that information is incredibly valuable.

“GlobalGiving depends on an equally rich and powerful resource: data.”

How can organizations maximize their donations on GlobalGiving?


While GlobalGiving staff already use data to drive their activities, they wanted to go deeper using data science to answer this question and to uncover what leads to nonprofits successfully reaching their project fundraising goals. With this information, they could refine their search algorithm to help donors find projects they’re most interested in and also help nonprofits maximize their donations.


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. Many nonprofits like GlobalGiving are now doing the same thing, using the same data science techniques that companies use to boost profits to advance their missions.


GlobalGiving first participated in a DataKind weekend DataDive, supported by Teradata, last October to do initial analysis of their 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 GlobalGiving’s 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. GlobalGiving wanted to hone in on the component it could influence the most – the project page. Improving the project page itself with even minor tweaks, or providing nonprofits with best practices backed by data could have a huge impact on their fundraising success over time.

“What do nonprofits that fundraise successfully on GlobalGiving have in common?”

The DataKind volunteer team worked hand in hand with GlobalGiving’s 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 GlobalGiving guide their partner organizations on best practices for maximizing donations on their platform.


Key learnings


The 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, putting a call-to-action in the 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. 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. In other words, 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 GlobalGiving to leverage in support of nonprofits using their platform.

“Now, as any good stats student knows, correlation is not causation.”

Start your journey


Armed with these findings, your organization may be interested in launching your own crowdfunding campaign. Find out how to join GlobalGiving and start your application here.

“All data science journeys begin with a question. “

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 like GlobalGiving 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.


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

This post originally appeared on the NTEN blog June 10 2015.

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 PracticeData Analysts for Social Good or reach out to Miriam at for advice on how to get started. If you think a data science project might help you scale your work, apply on their website for support!


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