Is Your Data Speaking to You?

June 22, 2020

The relationship between non-profit organizations and data has always been estranged. The typical assumptions are that either an organization’s data isn’t useful or that it’s hard to collect it properly. This could not be further from the truth.

Every organization that we’ve had the honor of working with has generated years of valuable, untapped data: years of financial giving, volunteer signups, prospective missionary requests, etc. Unfortunately, we have found that most of the time these same organizations haven’t been able to do the hard work of mining through this treasure trove of data and ultimately pass it through what we call the “Data Journey.” Let us explain.

Right from our inception three years ago, we knew that data had to lead the way strategically and creatively for all of our projects. This was influenced by our CEO, Jinu Thomas, who had spent more than 17 years in diverse data-driven industries: technology, manufacturing & healthcare. For this reason, we have incorporated data gathering, data mining, market research, and various multivariate analysis to not only develop data where it was non-existent, but also to put a concerted effort to educate non-profits to understand the “Data Journey”.

We believe every non-profit organization is in possession of useful data that is captured every time they connect with their audience. For example, churches hold services every Sunday, their members do small groups every week, tithes come in every month, members engage with them on social media, and they send out newsletters every week connecting with their audience. Every encounter could have multiple data points connected to it. Another example is a mission-sending organization where a missionary is supported by several donors and every donor has a donation profile and capacity. If we miss these correlations and have not intentionally captured, segmented, and analyzed them, we are missing potential opportunities to make more informed decisions that ultimately impact growth and audience engagement.

We believe every non-profit organization is in possession of useful data that is captured every time they connect with their audience.

Data Journey

Every set of data should go through three essential phases: Information, Intelligence and Insight.


This is the stage in which 90% of data exists within a non-profit today. Information is the raw and unprocessed facts that we capture according to some agreed-upon standards. It could be a number, a name, an image, an audio clip, a transaction or something similar.

Example: Let say you’re a mission-sending organization that has 900 donors. Information is knowing their names, addresses, and donation amounts (year over year). It’s the basic unit in which the data is captured inside a donor management system or in a donation portal.



In our experience, rarely does data actually transform from information to intelligence. For Information to become Intelligence, data mining, data gathering and data analysis needs to be done. It needs to be processed, aggregated, and organized into a more robust format. It might end up looking like charts, reports and dashboards.

Example: Let’s follow the above example of the mission-sending organization with 900 donors. Once you know all the names, addresses and basic giving information, you can start enriching the data by seeking more demographic-based information like age, date of birth, employment, education, family size, marital status, church that they attend, organizations that they support alongside your organization, financial levels at which they support other organizations compared to yours, groups/networks they are affiliated with or boards that they sit on, etc. More often than not, you will not have that data if you don’t go deeper and ask them or have them fill out surveys. Once you have acquired that data donor by donor then you can do segmentation analysis to figure out what segments are more likely to donate to your organization. At a basic level, what you are trying to understand by gathering and mining this data is Donor Capacity (the ability of the individual to give based on wealth indicators) and Donor Affinity (the willingness of the donor to give to your organization based on philanthropic indicators).



‘Insight’ has become a terribly misused word, similar to  ‘brand,’ ‘strategy’ and ‘innovation’ [we’ll save the latter words for another blog 🙂 ]. Insights cannot just be information or intelligence. At Rethink Creative, here is how we define an Insight:

A deep truth about the customer, market or audience based on their behavior, experiences, beliefs, needs or desires. It typically leads to a discovery about the underlying motivations that drive actions.

In other words, insights are all about answering the “Why” question. Insights are less apparent, intangible, and latent. Ultimately, they are hidden truths that come from obsessive digging and sometimes only manifest themselves after conducting qualitative and quantitative market research.

Example: Picking back up from the example of the mission-sending organization with 900 donors above, now that you have segmented your donors in different categories, we need to understand the collective “Why’s” behind donor behavior. Why is a certain donor in a certain segment motivated to give to your organization? Are they influenced by certain attributes your organization possesses or experiences that have emotionally captured their heart?


Some Practical Steps.

The Data Journey can seem overwhelming or intimidating to people stuck in the information or intelligence phase. However, the hard work to synthesize information into insights is worth it. These practical and innovative bits of truth could mean the difference between breakthrough and stagnancy within your organization. When our missions and causes are on the line, isn’t this ultimately worth it? Here are ways you can address the issues within your organization’s data journey:

Take Inventory:

Gather together a small data taskforce and start discussions on – “who is our audience” and “what data do we have on them?” This might take you several meetings and weeks to analyze your systems and understand how your data is being stored today and captured.

Identify Gaps:

Once the task force has a complete understanding of what you already have, it’s time to discuss/ideate/brainstorm, what are potential gaps of data that you need to go after.

Market Research:

It’s highly likely that once you have identified your gaps, you will need to go out and get the data that will allow you to grasp the complete picture of the “What” and the “Why” of your audience and their behavior, experiences, beliefs, needs or desires. This will mean potentially doing some qualitative and quantitative research.

Is your data speaking to you? If not, perhaps it’s time to let data take the driver’s seat in the decision-making process of your organization so that you can more effectively advance your mission.

Our Clients

“As SEND International looks to the future and considers how our brand and messaging is being perceived by a variety of audiences, we knew that we needed outside expertise to help us find alignment both internally and externally. Rethink Creative has been an extension of the SEND family, providing valuable insights, recommendations and strategies that position our brand for the Great Commission work of bringing the love and message of Jesus to the least reached.”

Michelle Atwell
US Director & CEO, SEND International

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