data and your nonprofit with Allen Davidov

Episode aired Sept. 23, 2020: Use The Data!

Allen Davidov has extensive nonprofit experience. His true love? Data. Allen is a data nerd and through his work at Environics Analytics, he utilizes data to help nonprofits grow. In this episode Allen discusses

  • the importance of aligning values with your donors
  • data hygiene and why it’s critical to success
  • what should be included in a data strategy
  • having in places procedures and a process for dealing with data and
  • why an investment in data is going to further your mission. 

Below you can listen, watch or read this podcast episode.


Ephraim: Welcome to this edition of the Your Weekly Dose of Nonprofit Podcast, the podcast that delivers actionable items you can implement at your organization right away. I’m your host Ephraim Gopin of 1832 Communications. Today I’m really happy to have with us a nonprofit data and marketing expert, Allen Davidov. Allen how you doing today?

Allen: I’m doing well, thank you. How are you?

Ephraim: I’m doing great. Let’s introduce you to our listeners, watchers and readers.

Allen Davidov is vice president of business consulting and NFP practice lead at Environics Analytics. With nearly 20 years of experience, he is responsible for helping charities and foundations apply EA’s products and services to attract and retain donors, corporate partners and volunteers. Prior to joining EA, Allen successfully led marketing, annual giving, leadership giving and event initiatives at a number of organizations, including Sinai Health Foundation, Habitat for Humanity, Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation Ontario region and North York General Hospital Foundation. Allen is also an active member of the Canadian Marketing Association not-for-profit council, a marketing and data volunteer with the Canadian Association of Gift Planners and a member of Seneca College’s marketing advisory council. He holds an MBA from the University of Liverpool, a bachelor of commerce degree from Ryerson University a creative advertising diploma from Centennial College and a chartered marketer certificate from the Canadian Marketing Association.

How Data Helps Fundraising

In today’s episode we’re going to discuss data and its implications on nonprofits. So let’s dive right in. Allen, bottom line: how can data help build relationships and boost fundraising?

Allen: Great question, great way to start. Thank you again for having me. Bottom line, data can help you fill in the gaps and that’s what it’s meant to do. All charities collects data information on their donors, whether it’s a twenty dollar gift, where they live, how they’ve interacted, what events do they attend, what communication do they open, all of those things.

Third-party data really helps fill in the gaps- or primary through survey data- fills in the gaps on behaviors, financial information that you just don’t know because people don’t raise their hand and share, I have a million dollars in my bank account. Or kind of gives you a sense of who these people are, how many kids do they have, what’s their demographics like. As well as psychographics and values. Why do they connect with your charity? Why is your hospital so important or their alma mater so important or black lives matter in this instance so important? Data can help you fill in those gaps and give you sort of a more sort of circular sort of idea of who these people are.

Data Strategy

Ephraim: Excellent. So the amount of available data can be very overwhelming for some nonprofits. You advocate for crafting a data strategy to help guide the organization. What should be included in that strategy?

Allen: That’s a great question, a great place to start. Data strategies really are meant to help an organization understand what can they do with their data, what they should be collecting with their data. That’s really the ground level, the foundation. It doesn’t tell you exactly what data you need to go after necessarily. It kind of takes your business plan, your marketing plan, it kind of sets you up to say these are the kind of reports we need to be running, so this is the kind of data we need to be filling or this is what we should be mindful of or these are the types of partners we should be engaging.

Because we all kind of like shiny objects or most people like shiny objects, so a data strategy really lays the groundwork and starts to help a not-for-profit understand, are we really maximizing our CRM? Are we maximizing or using the right peer-to-peer tool? Do we have enough demographic information or wealth information on our donors? If we don’t, then we know what we need to do. And are we reporting correctly to our boards, to our executive team? What do those reports look like? So a data strategy starts to articulate to an organization what they should be doing and how they should be moving forward and that’s why it’s so key and important to start with a data strategy.

Data Points To Keep An Eye On

Ephraim: Fantastic. So today’s actionable item: Many small nonprofits may not have the resources to dive into all the data that’s available. What data points or markers would you tell them to keep an eye on to help them further their mission?

Allen: So I would start with really what is their goal and objectives. If you’re an events based organization, obviously you’re looking at what do your events look like and kind of getting a sense or keeping record of attendance, the types of events people like to attend, what the commentary is. If you are a peer-to-peer organization, how easy was it for you to sort of engage with your donors? What is the follow-up to that? Are you bringing the right people to your pipelines for that?

Those markers, again not really getting into the sphere of third-party data, but those are simple things that organizations should start to keep tabs on and really get an idea of what’s going on with their organization. Those are the things that we’re all intuitively thinking about, are all talking about but don’t necessarily record and keep tabs on because then this way, you can’t come back with, well our event did this, this is sort of a few key markers along the way that we noticed whether people stop attending, whether communication wasn’t well received, whether the ads didn’t resonate with people or maybe where the money was going with wasn’t resonating. So let’s pick another part of the organization. So instead of education we’re looking at MRI machines if we’re talking about hospitals. If we’re talking about Habitat, maybe we talk about a different type of family or there’s something that didn’t resonate. Whether it’s single moms etc etc etc.

What I really advocate for is people really taking the time to jot down information, keep it in their CRM after an event, after a campaign, after a major gift, sort of model or really understand what worked what didn’t work, come back through their process wheel and then go at it again and make tweaks and adjustments and see how the next sort of phase goes.

Data Hygiene

Ephraim: Excellent. Data hygiene. What does that term mean and why is it critical to utilizing the data properly?

Allen: Quite simply and I’m sure a few people who are listening to this, would absolutely agree, garbage in garbage out.

So if you’re not collecting your information, there’s no way that you can engage with donors to thank them for gifts, to follow up with the story, to follow up with the next ask. So it is very key, it’s essential to keep good data in your CRM and that’s what data hygiene is. It’s really looking at how clean your data is and what do you need to be doing to keep it clean and keep it moving forward. I know a lot of charities use volunteers to implement data or to sort of implement donor data into their CRM. I think being very clear with every single volunteer what needs to go where, how to do it, create manuals around this kind of thing is really key and important… and that is one thing I do observe and do hear a lot about, that a lot of organizations don’t have those manuals, don’t create manuals, so when staff turnover happens the next person sort of implements a strategy that they’re most comfortable with, not necessarily that’s the best for an organization. So then you kind of start to shift a little bit, you start collecting data slightly differently and that changes your database again and you get into a whole mess. So garbage in garbage out is key.

And what’s really important to do, that you really have to put the right steps and procedures in place because it’s going to be very costly and timely and you won’t be able to connect with your donors. I still get emails with my names spelled a million different ways, with initials that I don’t actually have and for asks as a follow-up to a donation that I didn’t make to that particular fund. So that kind of speaks volumes in terms of how my information has been kept with different organizations and as a donor, I kind of feel like you took some funds, I supported you and then you kind of didn’t engage with me in a meaningful way. Because I took the time, I put my heart into my donation, continuity is key.

New Data Points To Consider

Ephraim: Absolutely. So at your company, you offer a vast wealth of data information to nonprofits. The data is not just related to the actual ask for money but is critical to marketing to donors and prospective donors. Can you tell us three data points or areas your company produces data for which a nonprofit might not have thought about but are very relevant to marketing success?

Allen: Yeah absolutely. So there are lots of data points that we collect both in Canada and the U.S. We also have partnerships in Britain, in different parts of Europe, Australia. So we have a lot of data and so it’s a matter of what are you looking for, what are you trying to fill in the gaps that you don’t know.

A lot of people typically do go to wealth. So how much cash does this person have or how much money can they donate. What they typically don’t understand is we have a lot of data at the postal code or zip plus four level or any sort of postal code like level across different countries, which is the lowest level of geography in Canada. In the U.S. household data is the lowest level of geography. But there’s other things like liquid assets. There’s other things like disposable discretionary income or real estate holdings or other bits of information on the wealth side that really helps you understand what again is sort of the whole picture of this donor. So when I’m going with an ask, maybe it’s not a cash ask but maybe it’s a blended ask. Or if I’m thinking plan a longer term and that donor journey, what is the opportunity I have with this donor as they kind of go through my organization and connect with me in different ways?

And speaking along those lines, the other bit of information is behaviors. So what are their tendencies? Where do they engage? Where do they react to different things? So if I get things in the mail, I might be someone that really wholeheartedly does read my mail but I go online to make a gift. So understanding whether it’s social, whether it’s online, whether it’s offline direct mail or appeals through telephone etc. understanding what those behaviors are so you’re not pigeon holing people into how they one reacted but what really won’t trigger a reaction and then where do they go to actually make that gift and connect with you.

Then the third area I would talk about or would like to talk about is my absolute favorite, which is psychographics. Values. Everyone’s values are innately different. Everyone’s values really showcase who they are as people and why they connect to different organizations and in different causes. So why do I give to a university versus why do I give to a hospital or whether I give to poverty or social services? Values really can help articulate those why’s and that is something a lot of charities don’t think through, because they got a $20 gift so now it’s about, okay this donor has a million dollars, how do we get to that? How you unlock that is really understanding the values of why do they give and that’s something as a major gift sort of prospect you go through 18-24 months to understand that or try to understand that. So our values, our psychographics really open up and is a key to that and helps you sort of quickly fast track some of that because you’re starting to build some of that.

And then on the mass communication side of things, how you connect with donors through e-newsletters, websites. It’s again those values. What are people gonna click on is based on what they believe and what catches their eye. So values can really unlock that from a branding perspective and something I’ve used for years to really get a sense of these different personas, what are their values and why is our charity so important? How am I going to talk to them? How am I going to connect my brand values to their values to make sure that there’s engagement and a journey that we’ve now created?

Let’s Learn More About Allen

Ephraim: That’s an excellent excellent answer. Let’s move on to the lightning round and learn more about you. What got started on your nonprofit career path?

Allen: Sorry. Can you repeat that once again?

Ephraim: What got you started on your nonprofit career path?

Allen: Funny story. I always wanted to get into not-for-profits. Growing up my parents were always involved in giving to our synagogue or hospital or just community and being involved. So I grew up going on different walks, whether it’s the UJA walk, the Heart and Stroke sort of bike and other things. I may be aging myself slightly. So growing up I always wanted to get involved in the not-for-profit. I started at an agency and I always thought to myself that one day you know in my career, maybe I’ll volunteer, maybe when I become a manager or someone at a different level, a higher level, I’ll get involved.

And I happen to go to a wedding with my wife and I sat with my first boss at a not-for-profit and we just got talking. She started talking about and it was Habitat for Humanity, the Toronto chapter. She talked about the charity and how great they were and it really connected with me and sort of kind of spoke to some of my immigrant parent background. They came to Canada as immigrants and what they did to get a home and that and sort of the purpose of a home and poverty housing and all of that. They happened to be looking, so from that wedding I got an interview and next thing I know, the rest is history I guess. And that’s how I got into the not-for-profit. But it really again, coming back to values. It was all based on how I was raised, so that’s how it got started.

Ephraim: Fantastic. If there’s one thing you could shake up in the nonprofit world, what would it be?

Allen: Great question. I think it would just be how they look at data. I think the not-for-profit sector has always been ahead of the curve on a lot of things and whether it’s peer-to-peer engagement, social media jumping on board because obviously it’s free and it’s a way to engage. I think what I would shake up is just people’s perception of data and its use and understanding how key it could be to unlocking that donor engagement and journey for the longer term. It’s an investment but it’s an investment that really pays off and just getting past that barrier of investment… and sometimes that investment is tiny, could be a couple hundred dollars. So it’s getting away from the cost and just thinking about how can I use this opportunity and how can I use this important information to further my mission? And if it really can further your mission, then you know what? Let’s look at the investment and make those investments like every business does.

Ephraim: Excellent. Biggest difference between working in the for-profit and the nonprofit world?

Allen: I get asked that question a lot and maybe it’s because I’m lucky because I still kind of have one foot on each side. I don’t see it that much of a difference, outside of at the end of the day at for-profits obviously raises you know revenue for stakeholders and shareholders and has a bottom line, whereas a not-for-profit takes all that money and reinvests it back into their cause. So that gap is actually quite small and a lot of people in the not-for-profit don’t think like that and they should start thinking about that because as we go through downturns in economy, good economies, all of those things, you really should be thinking about your business short term, medium term and long term. I think that applies to both sides. But outside of that, I think the gaps are actually getting quite small between the two.

Ephraim: Okay. You do triathlons. For the love of God, WHY?

Allen: My wife asks me the same question every day. I just got addicted. I’ve been a runner for 20 plus years. Used to love, well still love, going out in the morning, going out for a jog and just thinking about my work day and just getting those creative juices flowing and triathlon is another way for me to kind of do that. While I’m out on a bike, whatever the distance, I’m always thinking about life and work and charities and things that you know, kids and all those other things. So it just gives me an opportunity to kind of think while being competitive and active. I’m very competitive.

Ephraim: Best part of living in Toronto?

Allen: Oh there’s so many things, so many things. As you would know, being a visitor and used to live here, love the people, which I think everybody can say for almost any city. The diversity, the culture, the food. There’s just so much to do here. But I would throw in the bagels. The bagels are just awesome.

Ephraim: I love that answer. Fantastic. Let’s turn the table. You get to ask me a surprise question. I have no idea what’s coming. Go ahead.

Allen: What’s the one thing that you are most proud of and it doesn’t necessarily have to be in the not-for-profit sector or work that you’ve done, that you’ve promoted?

Ephraim: Meaning something I’m proud of that I’ve promoted?

Allen: Not kid related. That you’re most proud of that’s not related to family or your kids.

Ephraim: That’s not related to family or kids. That’s an actually good question. I’m trying to think of all the things that I’m… you know what? The truth is this is a very small one but it’s been a decade now that I’ve been on Twitter and I’ve managed… I taught it to myself after thinking Twitter was the dumbest thing in the world. 140 characters is so small and so little and you can’t tell… you can’t say anything in 140 characters.

From 2010 to today, 10 years later, I built up an international network of professional colleagues both in the nonprofit and the for-profit sector, simply because I took the time to teach myself something. And I learned- I’ve always been a person who believes in always be learning- but Twitter, like i said, Twitter was something I really wasn’t interested in doing and then I just got the bug. And once I got the bug I never really left, as anybody who follows me knows. I built up the network and that’s the part that I’m proud of. It’s not the fact that I’ve tweeted so much or anything like that. Okay, to be honest, Josh Molina once had me as his pinned tweet, so there was that. And Dee Snyder has… no, Platinum Blonde has retweeted me. So I’ve had a couple of nice moments there. I’m still trying to get Mel Brooks to answer me. One day I will succeed.

But in the meantime, it’s the colleagues and the people that I’ve met through Twitter that I’m proud of because of two things: One, I met this guy Allen who’s on my podcast through Twitter. But second of all, it allows me to move people into the right places. So I get on my desk all the time, do you know anybody who can fill this role or the right consultant? I now know who to say, go to that person and use them. They’re an expert in this field. I’m proud in the sense of I’ve built a network and I can help people find work, I can help people make partnerships, I can help nonprofits do better and I think that is something. I know it sounds like something ridiculous. I started on twitter but I think that 10 years later, I can look back on it and go, you know what? I taught myself something and it’s helped a lot more people than just me and I’m very proud of that.

Allen: And I’ve really enjoyed connecting with you on here and sort of also connecting with other consultants. I get your point. It really brings people together regardless of country and border and sort of with the work that you do and really it gives you a sense of what people are all about and who they are, because people do kind of translate some of their personal stuff on there as well. So you really get a sense of who they are. Great answer.

Ephraim: Thank you. Appreciate it. Thank you for appearing on the podcast today. You should absolutely, definitely connect with Allen both on LinkedIn and on Twitter at @AllenDavidov. Allen, have a wonderful day.

Allen: Thank you so much. Enjoyed being here.

Ephraim: Thanks for being here. Appreciate it. Have a good one.

Allen: Thanks.

Ephraim: Bye.

Allen: Bye.