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Nonprofit Data: Something for Everyone


Although we wouldn’t presume to have the answer to Sigmund Freud’s famous question, we do applaud the approach that Cynthia Gibson and Bill Dietel take in their provocative article “What Do Donors Want?,” in a recent issue of Nonprofit Quarterly. At GuideStar, we have long known that the majority of donors give according to their hearts. They look for nonprofits that align with their own sets of values, and they look for the nonprofits themselves to prove that they are worthy of the donations. That’s what makes the nonprofit sector so interesting – there’s something for everyone.

We think it’s important that nonprofits make that emotional connection for donors. But in a crowded marketplace, with multiple nonprofits working towards the same mission and providing similar programs, we also believe it’s the high-performing nonprofits that, in fact, deserve these generation donations. And that’s a distinction that we have to make.

In fact, many donors who are solely motivated by strong personal interests─religion, education, health and friend─will probably continue to be the vast bulk of donors. But even here data can play a role: one person told me he gives to the same organizations every year, but uses GuideStar to make sure everything is still okay.

And it must be said: sometimes it is the most passionate donors who seek data. In our experience, an increasing numbers of donors who are determined to solve a problem or make a difference are the ones most likely to want to know about the results of the organizations they support. If a person’s goal is to, say, provide low income housing or end malaria, these passionate donors want to make sure the organizations to which they send their hard earned money actually know how to make a difference. During the Haiti earthquake crisis we were flooded with phone calls from people not about whether to make a contribution, but which organizations had the capabilities and experience to actually deliver. Passion often demands data.

Above all else, we know that we need to understand better what drives charitable giving in order to understand better how to drive that giving to high performing nonprofits. We recently partnered with Hope Consulting to conduct and market test research on this topic to better understand and inform the philanthropic sector on the behaviors, motivations, and needs of individual donors, foundations, and those who advise them. We hope to use the findings of this research to help shape our core offerings of nonprofit data and information to the world.

As President Obama recently remarked at the Millennium Development Goals Summit in New York, New York, “Guided by the evidence, we will invest in programs that work; we’ll end those that don’t. We need to be big-hearted but also hard-headed in our approach to development.” In other words, the job of providing data to donors is tough, but somebody’s got to do it.

Bob.jpgThe preceding is a guest post by Bob Ottenhoff,  Chief Executive of the Center for Disaster Philanthropy. With an entrepreneurial spirit, strong technology focus, and a quest to make an impact in the world, Bob has the ability to take an organization and lead it into strong performance, sustainability, and industry leadership.

Topics: Giving Wisely Donors Nonprofits