This episode is sponsored by my friends at Keela, a comprehensive fundraising and donor management software that will help you expand your reach, increase fundraising revenue, and foster a dedicated community of supporters.
Several of my clients are currently using Keela and have continued to be impressed with how easy it is to use, how affordable it is and most importantly, the results that they see and the impact they are able to create.
Keela is hosting a webinar, led by me, on June 6 - How to Drive Donations and Get Engagement Using Social Media. It’s totally free, and you can get all the details and sign up by clicking here.
Becoming data literate and even data-driven isn't impossible for small nonprofits. In this episode, I sit down with Sarah Epting to talk all things data. Specifically:
With 10 years of nonprofit management and 5 years of specialized Salesforce Administrator experience, Sarah leverages unprecedented knowledge of the hurdles nonprofits often face. She founded Technopath to address the gaps in the industry, leveraging her Salesforce expertise to help nonprofits further their mission.
Learn more about Technopath
About Julia Campbell, the host of the Nonprofit Nation podcast:
Named as a top thought leader by Forbes and BizTech Magazine, Julia Campbell (she/hers) is an author, coach, and speaker on a mission to make the digital world a better place.
She wrote her book, Storytelling in the Digital Age: A Guide for Nonprofits, as a roadmap for social change agents who want to build movements using engaging digital storytelling techniques. Her second book, How to Build and Mobilize a Social Media Community for Your Nonprofit, was published in 2020 as a call-to-arms for mission-driven organizations to use the power of social media to build movements.
Hello This episode is sponsored by my friends at Keela, a comprehensive fundraising and donor management software that will help you expand your reach, increase your fundraising revenue, and foster a dedicated community of supporters. Now several of my clients are currently using Keela. And they continue to be impressed with how easy it is to use, how affordable it is, and most importantly, the results that they see and the impact they're able to create. Now, Keela is hosting a free webinar led by me on June 6, how to drive donations and get engagement using social media. It's totally free. And you can get all the details and sign up at www.jcsocialmarketing.com/keela that's www.jcsocialmarketing.com/keela See you there. Hello, and welcome to Nonprofit Nation. I'm your host, Julia Campbell. And I'm going to sit down with nonprofit industry experts, fundraisers, marketers, and everyone in between to get real and discuss what it takes to build that movement that you've been dreaming of. I created the nonprofit nation podcast to share practical wisdom and strategies to help you confidently find your voice. Definitively grow your audience and effectively build your movement. If you're a nonprofit newbie, or an experienced professional, who's looking to get more visibility, reach more people and create even more impact then you're in the right place. Let's get started. Hi, everyone, hello, all my lovely nonprofit unicorns. This is Julia Campbell, your host for this episode of nonprofit Nation. Today we're going to be talking about data literacy, which kind of sounds like a dry topic. But honestly, I think that it's incredibly important. So we're going to discuss which kind of data what data nonprofits should collect and use, how to choose a helpful and lean tech stack, understanding the best kind of data for nonprofits needs, and then really just kind of figuring out where to go and what to do and why. And I have a data literacy expert with me today, with 10 years of nonprofit management, and five years of specialized Salesforce administrator experience. Sarah Epting leverages unprecedented knowledge of the hurdles nonprofits often face upon graduating from Georgia State University as an MPA and nonprofit management. That's also my degree, so yay, NPAs. She's dedicated herself to aiding nonprofits in their growth with the help of technology. And this part of the bio I especially love because it's like the why. So in her role as a nonprofit manager, she often encountered the same issue. Nonprofits frequently stretched their resources then, and failed to take advantage of the available technology to organize their internal systems and improve their fundraising efforts. She found a techno path to address the gaps in the industry, leveraging her Salesforce expertise to help nonprofits further their mission. And Sarah holds six Salesforce certifications. She's an experienced speaker having presented at both nonprofit conventions and Salesforce events. So welcome, Sarah.Sarah Epting:
Thank you. Thank you so much for having me, Julia.Julia Campbell:
It's exciting. Okay, fellow MBA nonprofit manager MPa, I should say, oh, my gosh, we're not MBAs. We're MPAs. So where did you start your journey? And tell me a lot a little bit about how you founded your company and what you do now?Sarah Epting:
Well, actually, I think you said, prior to this, we were talking before that you have a journalism background. I actually got a journalism degree. It's my bachelor's degree. And I was looking and it was in 2004. So there's a big shift in newspapers starting to change things and I decided to take an internship at the Women's Sports Foundation as a publication assistant. So I would get to write the newsletter articles and interview the athletes and that sort of thing. But I then shifted into nonprofits from there. So marketing and that sort of thing. And I worked for the Georgia lions Lighthouse Foundation for the bulk of my nonprofit for about seven years. And they help low income Georgians get eyeglasses, eye surgeries and hearing aids. And when I started there, we didn't have a email blast system. We didn't have anything Mark getting going. So I got that going. But as you know, it's small nonprofits, you wear many hats. And so I had the fundraising hat eventually. And also technology. So I was doing marketing, fundraising and technology. Because I was the one who was willing to try to learn SQL to pull reports for the foundation. As we grew, I took a class on it. And I realized later that I actually ended up doing that. Prior to that in my dorm room, and everybody needed to set up Ethernet, I was the one trying helping them figure it out, I had been the one to figure it out.Julia Campbell:
Amazing. I'm sure they very much appreciated that.Sarah Epting:
Right. So I pick up technology fairly easily. And like you said, in the bio, I noticed when I work at nonprofits, and any of the work that I did at nonprofits, that there was this gap between what is available and also the knowledge that's available. So I've really focused my company, on training nonprofits, in my case, specifically on how to use Salesforce, we're looking to expand to more things like data collection, and how to use Excel and that sort of thing, specifically to nonprofits, and also teaching people who are trying to get in to their Salesforce careers, how to help nonprofits and understand nonprofits better, because a lot of times somebody might want to go in and say, Oh, I just trained on this, I just took a class on this, I want to volunteer to help you. And then if you don't know, nonprofit business, and you don't understand how nonprofits work. So that's a piece of what I do. And that's kind of been my journey with. And through nonprofits,Julia Campbell:
I find that a lot of us start our businesses because of a frustration that we had when we were working full time. So for me, I started my business, actually, as a grant writer for hire. And what I found was a lot of organizations just didn't have the bandwidth or the capacity to have a grant writer on staff or their development director was so strained, being probably like you a development communications and tech person, and did not have the time to research and write and report on grants. So we find these pain points, and we build businesses around them. And I love that you did that. So tell me about the work that you do right now.Sarah Epting:
So right now I am focused on training, like I said, people who are interested in Salesforce on helping nonprofits, so I train them to successfully put together a nonprofit system for a nonprofit, what would be important to a nonprofit. And then I train nonprofits in a bespoke way to help them learn their system and understand their systems. And sometimes, it's something that I didn't even think of as, like you said, as you as you find these pain points. So I'm working with smaller nonprofits sometimes. And I didn't realize that they weren't mail merging their thank you letters, they didn't know what Mail Merge was. And so to be they were typing each person's name and address into the thank you letters or into their asks and requests. And if you're listening to this, and you don't know what mail merge is, please google it, please. I think a lot of people know it. But there's things that I didn't even realize you didn't know. So I, I trained on a in a bespoke way to nonprofits, and I'm developing some more group trainings. And then also I have a few a handful of clients, where I do some coaching. So they're the database person, they're keeping track of their database, but they have specific questions. So we just sit down and they drive while I talk them through how to do what they do. So I'm coaching them through that.Julia Campbell:
And then I helped the CDC Foundation, that's my big client that I help with their data because they went through a massive shift with individual donors. So when COVID hit, they went from having 750 individual donors to 180,000. So talk about data literacy and combing through data and figuring out not only just how to get that data into their system, but also how to pull it out in a meaningful way. So I help them with that.Julia Campbell:
Amazing, so Wow, well, we could talk about the CDC Foundation for days because I'm a huge fan. So what is data literacy because it sounds like is something that maybe the average development director doesn't have to worry about. But I know that you beg to differ. And I totally beg to differ. So what is data literacy? And why is it especially important for nonprofits?Sarah Epting:
Well, data literacy is the ability to read, work with and analyze and communicate with data. So in some industries, it's crucial like the medical field, on an individual level, your doctor needs to be able to look at your blood work your scans, other data points, like your age, or weight, your family history, to make a whole wellness plan for you, if you're lucky. Even with all the knowledge that they have of the human body, they need to be able to have that data and interpret that to be able to heal you to prescribe the medication or tell you what diet you should have. It's the same for nonprofits trying to solve problems and move their mission forward, you'll see some data communicated and annual reports which make for a lovely graphics. But more importantly, it's what the funders are looking for, as you strategize on how to raise money for your organization. So if I'm a foundation, and I'm interested in funding workforce development, I'm more interested in funding a program that has an 89% retention rate after one year than a 50% retention rate after one year. And the nonprofit can't tell that story. Unless they have the data unless they're following the graduates and they're keeping track of that's a data point that I want to know, at the end of the year. That's a data point that I want to be able to tell my funders and the understanding that that is something you have to keep track of is data literacy. The organization's have to decide what that data is that they want to track. And understand that they can measure it just like you can measure blood work just like you can measure other things, you can measure data points that funders are looking for.Julia Campbell:
So beyond just funders, it sounds like this is something that could really benefit program effectiveness. Yes. program impact. I mean, it could really have, it has implications in almost every department, what are some of the ways we can use this for, you know, to increase program impact?Sarah Epting:
I would say to set benchmarks. So when I worked at the Georgia lions Lighthouse Foundation, we came to actually where I just moved now my family's lake house for a day or two day long retreat, to really do our strategic planning and thinking about where we wanted our programs to go. And we said, we want 70% of people to feel a certain way or we want we set these benchmarks you want people to say they feel less isolated because of their hearing aids, or they feel more comfortable in social settings because of their hearing aids, or they can see to drive and feel more independent because of their glasses. And so we decided what those benchmarks and data that we wanted to collect at the beginning of our strategic plan. And that was able, we were able to see if we could meet those goals. So yes, I am a fundraiser. So I think of it as in funding, but really, you're making more of an impact when you are deciding what data to collect. And you're moving your mission forward. And you're helping more people if you're looking at the data and if you're seeing when things so one of the I think the one data point was something very, I don't want to say foo foo but something that couldn't beJulia Campbell:
It was yes, it was quality anecdotal. It was something that you couldn't really measure, like enjoyment of life, or something that we couldn't, you couldn'tJulia Campbell:
You can measure that though. Can you do like on a scale from one to five?Sarah Epting:
Well, I guess so. I guess I can't remember what it was. But after we analyze the data after a year, we were like, Okay, well, we can't really measure this. I can't remember which data point it was. So you have to really look at it after a while and say, Is this working our but in terms of getting the program from point A to point Z, knowing where you want to end up? One of my favorite shows is Grace and Frankie and there is an episode where she's negotiating a deal for her pride. Product grosses divers beauty company and she's given the advice, figure out where you want to end up. And then don't start there meaning Aim High as a negotiation tactic. But I think that that's what we should do as nonprofits, we aim high as we set these goals for ourselves as the programs, and then we decide how we're going to measure it. So usually, for us at The Lighthouse Foundation, it was follow up surveys, that we had an incentive for hearing aids, we had to work with audiologists and EMTs. So we had it so that if the audiologist didn't have the patient, fill out the survey, then they didn't get their last payment. So we pretty much always got the surveys because the doctor had the incentive to get the payment for their services. I think it was like that. Don't quote me on that. Exactly. It was something to that effect, where it wasn't just oh, well, we have to rely on somebody to fill back out a survey, there was an incentive, or a requirement for them to fill out the survey to receive service or something like that. So that we had the pre survey with the application. And we were able to get the post survey and compare the data.Julia Campbell:
This is really interesting, because I've worked in organizations where I feel like it's very easy to give data on how many people were served. So this many people stayed at our shelter this many people received services, this many people came to the food bank, those kinds of things. But it's very hard to measure that data afterwards. So how can small shops especially start on this kind of data literacy journey?Sarah Epting:
I think to be giggler is to know if the foundation or whoever that asked you for statistic can actually be understood. So I always like I said, I have a developer, a development mindset, a fundraising mindset. So I think about what foundations and what donors the data that they're asking for. But one, can it really be achieved. And even if you take technology out of for small shop altogether, if you wanted to figure out how you were impacting, say, that workforce development program that I talked about, say your small town, you have a workforce development program, or you're trying to make sure that people are employed, you have your paper calendars, all of your case managers have address books. And you could start there and just say, Hey, we're going to spend two days looking at our calendars, looking at our notes, noticing trends, and writing them down, and come back and brainstorm together. So even if it's not even technology, another easy lift, I think would be there's so many online classes now or just going to a workshop on nonprofit data collection, if you Google that right now. And also understanding how to use some of the technology. So let's back up from the paper and say, How do I use Excel? I just signed up for an Excel course from Miss Excel MI, SS Excel. And she is great. Like she sent something in a newsletter today. It was like, Oh, that's a new featureJulia Campbell:
My husband is completely obsessed with Excel and is trying to get me on the Excel bandwagon. And I'm gonna be like, you should check out MS Excel. I'm writing it down. Yes. Am I get on the bandwagonSarah Epting:
But I think that for small shops, just starting with the basics in terms of what you track and make it more the what you were talking about the quantitative, how many people are we seeing? And if it's an animal shelter, you know, how many adoptions are there? That's perfectly fine to have that quantitative data, there's nothing wrong with that. Being able to understand to your point of the program's earlier, to be able to understand how to use that data to move your mission forward. That's the hard part. And that means looking at that data and saying, Are we where we want to be just like a for profit company benchmarks and has key measurements? It's the same thing with nonprofits.Julia Campbell:
How do we use that data to move our mission forward? So what do nonprofits often get wrong when collecting data and just to add to this I have been reading a lot about this. And I've been hearing things like unconscious bias, and those kinds of terms. And I'm certainly not a data literacy expert. So I'm asking you like, what do nonprofits get wrong? And maybe how can we avoid these pitfalls?Sarah Epting:
I think the biggest one that I see, because a lot of what I do or I have done in the past is help people set up their technology is first setting up a system to collect data, you can't be data literate, unless you have the data to read, you can't be literate unless you have a book. So some capture not enough, while others capture too much. And also, what I find a lot of nonprofits do is they sign up for too many systems. And I say a lot of nonprofits I've, I'm guilty of it too, as a small business person, because you want your frustrated with finding the data, you're frustrated with being able to reach your constituents, and you get MailChimp. And then you get Survey Monkey, and then you get Eventbrite and then you get some, some other event system to track registrations because you think, oh, event brides to public sign up genius. And yeah, I mean, that people, what happens is, a lot of times, especially at small nonprofits, they have a small workforce, they have board members and committee members, or volunteers just interjecting, oh, I use this here and I use it. So then I had, I was working with one nonprofit that had three different payment processors, two different places that donations were actually coming in, neither of them connected to their sales force properly. And so it's just and it was just kind of, like you have a thread and it just gets all tangled and balled up, I mean that that happens, you just it snowballs. And so I think in terms of actual collection, the technology piece can be something that they get wrong in terms of bias and collecting bias. I am not an expert on that. So I wouldn't be able to speak to bias in terms of what nonprofits are measuring or are collecting.Julia Campbell:
It's something that we need to explore. It's just something I've heard. And if anyone listening is an expert, I'm happy to entertain any questions or any articles, any resources that you have. And I think this leads into the kind of data that we should be collecting. So how do we know, you know what data we should collect? Because you said, what nonprofits might often get wrong is they might get into collecting too much data. And it just gets into data, overwhelm, and data overload. So how do we know what we should be collecting? And then I guess the second piece of it, how can we use it effectively? So it doesn't just kind of sit in a spreadsheet?Sarah Epting:
Yeah, I mean, I would go back to what I was saying before about really doing some forward thinking here. And think about what impacts you're trying to make with goal statements. So the life and self sufficiency was retained or regained because of our vision and hearing services. That was one of the ones we had brainstormed. And then we brainstormed indicators of that, like I said, with for the hearing, especially social it's being able to hear in church, or other services that you are attending things that you're attending. So really, then where do we want to end up? So I think that knowing what data to collect is really knowing the data that indicates that you're achieving your mission. So what is your mission as the American Cancer Society? Is it to eradicate cancer? Well, then the data we want to look at is how much research we've done. What have those developments that we've helped to fund do to decrease the occurrence of cancer? Or maybe its deaths or you know, that kind of thing. So in terms of programs, knowing what data to collect starts at the beginning of looking at your mission and saying how is my mission fulfilled? Is my mission too broad? I find that a lot of nonprofits it If your mission is to eradicate poverty in your community, what indicates that you're doing that? And can that ever be achieved? Is that really an achievable mission? And you know, visions and missions can be a little bit more out there and blue sky world, and then we can come up with goals to make ourselves. So what are the problems? What is some data that we can collect? That doesn't have anything to do with the services we're providing? But what's happening in our community? What is something that is going wrong? What is the problem you're trying to solve? If you know the problem you're trying to solve? What are the things that will help you get there? And once you identify with those, then you can say, how do I measure that. And sometimes that can be difficult to figure out. And the pre and post surveys are a great way to do that. There's also things that are more towards American Cancer Society where they actually are doing research or the CDC Foundation. Public health is really important to them. So we were talking yesterday, in a meeting about how one reason that it's hard to say, what you measure is, how do you say that you prevented a problem? That never happened? So public health is all all about preventing disease? So how can you prove that your efforts helped prevent disease, so when the Ebola outbreak happened in 2015, and Obama put in to place a system to help with that, as well as the CDC Foundation came in and activated for emergency response? During that time? Well, we all know about the COVID pandemic, but we don't know about an Ebola pandemic, because it was shut down. So that can be very difficult to express the importance of that. And that's an education piece rather than a data piece. What did we do? That is a small little thing that didn't mean not small, very large thing that we did, that took a small amount of time. But to express how that impacted the world,Julia Campbell:
That brings me to a great question that I have for you, because a lot of my clients, interestingly, work on legislative advocacy, and work on changing systems, and changing laws, or just changing like beliefs, changing structures, and exactly what you said, how can you quantify a change? So I guess a good example is how we all know that fewer people are smoking, right? Fewer people are buying cigarettes, fewer people are smoking, we just know it, we see it. And it's demonstrable. And it's something that is quantifiable, but who can claim credit for that? And also, those are the kinds of things that I always think about? How can you prove to your donors to your foundations to your Grand Tours to your corporate sponsors, that you've kind of moved the needle on things, I'd love to hear your opinion on some of the ways that we could do that.Sarah Epting:
I think that some of that's taking outside academic research and really relying on our folks in the universities and that sort of thing, where they're doing research in general on okay, I wrote an amicus brief or not, you know, something to support a supporting letter of a piece of legislation, what are the inflection points, because it's hard to know, there is less data on that, that you can actually capture for yourself. So what you need to do is look at studies and studies have shown that if you do this, then this will be x will be if you do X, Y will be the result. So if that's the case, then you look to that and say this is why we're doing X, because we're hoping for y and this is the person that we spoke to that is an expert in this field, or this is the reason that we're thinking that this would you know explaining your reasoning rather than data and in those cases in terms of making appeals and appeals to either legislative bodies or donors either way, you're needing to appeal to both their logic and their emotions, which can't always be quantified in data. But say if you've been doing it for 50 years, as we approach it things and do x, it always ends up in y, here are the things that the laws that have been passed since we started doing this work, I get that from Sandy Hook Promise sends me a lot of money. And they'll say, this is what we've done. And here's some laws that were passed. And we still have a long way to go. And they'll just outline, they'll do the emotional appeals. But then also, they do have what is the work that we're doing with your donations.Julia Campbell:
That's a perfect example. Because that is a legislative advocacy organization that I actually do support. And I love their work. I support a lot of advocacy patients, only because I can't fight the fight every day, myself, okay, I need other people to fight the fight, I will put the money, I will sign the things I will call my legislators, but I cannot be on the ground every single day. And that's what I tell my clients is, you can't say $100 funds, x, if you're an advocacy organization, you can't tell a funder that 30,000 People were helped by this one thing you can say, we have, like you just said evidence that it pushed the needle on something. The other point that I think a lot of my listeners are probably thinking about that I was just thinking about is we cannot put ourselves out of business. It's not possible. It's not like when you are helping people that are experiencing homelessness, you just think, Oh, I'm going to end homelessness, that's not possible or end relationship violence or end food insecurity. These are things that we will always be grappling with. So when I was a grant writer, I used to get very frustrated, because I would say how do you expect me to show that relationship violence and intimate partner violence is down? Because that's a major structural, systemic problem that we're dealing with. So I guess my question is, what if you're dealing with that kind of thing? How do you express to your donor and your funder? What is your recommendation to kind of communicate your results and still be positive, but still be sort of saying that this is a problem? We're not going to solve overnight?Sarah Epting:
Right. Well, I would say, Is your goal to solve the problem or aid the problem? In terms of relationship abuse? I would and violence, I would say that is it that your Interact is an organization in Raleigh, North Carolina, where I used to live, and they're a women's domestic violence shelter. So they have people come every day to get help. And that is what they're doing. They're, they're helping individuals get to a better place in their lives. They're not ending the systemic issue. If you're working to end a systemic issue, like climate change. Again, going back to the, if you do x, it will result in why you just keep trying to push that needle. And I like what you were saying about how I can't be the one to be doing the advocacy every day. I really like that, because sometimes it's harder for people to support an organization that advocates are an organization that prevent something versus something like what I just said, an organization that's helping individuals get to a better place in their lives. I don't know necessarily the answer. Nor, but I think that knowing in terms of being data literate, it has this conversation is around is just knowing that when to pull that outside data, when to use the data that you are getting as an organization as the results of what you're doing, and when to interpret things in a qualitative way rather than a quantitative way.Julia Campbell:
I love that. Thank you for bringing that back together to data literacy. Where can we find out more about you learn more about you and technopath and the kind of work that you're doing?Sarah Epting:
Well, our website is technopath.io, we have links there. If you're a nonprofit, you can click and learn about us. But if you're a Salesforce learner, either nonprofit or just somebody who's learning Salesforce, that if you click on I'm a Salesforce learner that will take you to all our courses and information. I also have a LinkedIn group called Salesforce Saturday for nonprofits I meet every Saturday, there's a topic you want to discuss or a use case scenario that you want us to walk through and you want some people to bounce ideas off of, you can bring them to me and like I said, we meet every Saturday, so I'm always looking for content. This Saturday, we're going to talk about Zapier, which is a program that connects different programs together. It's all around. Like I said, it's called Salesforce Saturday. So that one's very Salesforce specific, but it's just trying to focus on how nonprofits can benefit from using the technology. And thing having a data literacy conversation. We've had those before. And if you join the LinkedIn group, just search for Salesforce Saturday for nonprofits, you'll get a link to over 90 videos. We've been doing this for two years. So we have a lot of episodes, I guess you would call them of these webinars that we do every week.Julia Campbell:
Sarah, I really appreciate you taking the time, and I know threw some crazy questions at you. But this was a fantastic conversation and actually learned a lot. So thank you so much for being here.Sarah Epting:
Okay, thank you for having me.Julia Campbell:
Well, hey there, I wanted to say thank you for tuning into my show, and for listening all the way to the end. If you really enjoyed today's conversation, make sure to subscribe to the show in your favorite podcast app, and you'll get new episodes downloaded as soon as they come out. I would love if you left me a rating or review because this tells other people that my podcast is worth listening to. And then me and my guests can reach even more earbuds and create even more impact. So that's pretty much it. I'll be back soon with a brand new episode. But until then, you can find me on Instagram at juliacampbell77. Keep changing the world you nonprofit unicorn.