Hands down, the biggest and most beneficial challenges I’ve taken on in my business has been when I was contracted by 2 different organizations to create interactive online fundraising campaign dashboards.
Simply put, a dashboard is a method of displaying summary information to the viewer in such a way that it makes it easy for that viewer to digest the information and use it to make decisions. How does that info get displayed? It can be a simple number, a table, or even a data visualization.
The 2 client organizations for whom I did these dashboards consider themselves shops. They service individual non-profits, but also direct marketing agencies. Before I came along, they were spending a LOT of time receiving campaign data, manipulating it, summarizing it, and creating reports to deliver back to their own clients.
They wanted some way of decimating the time they were spending on this process, and so they came to me. I’m obsessed with data, programming, and data visualization. It’s a good thing, because as a result, my clients now have something super helpful!!
I wanted to write about the lessons I’ve learned as a process of devoting so much of my time to making these dashboards. Without further ado,
- Perspective is everything. Dashboards aren’t used by one person, therefore it needs to be able to accommodate the needs/priorities of multiple users
- It sure beats manual labour. Having an automated dashboard prevents you from having to spend so much time manipulating the data and then putting it into graphical form
- Allow people to download excel files with summary reports from the dashboard. Having stuff displayed on screen is all well and good, but people still like to see and share excel files.
- Consistency of the input data is so important. For example, if one column gets used to store information on test vs. control packages, please don’t switch to using another column without bringing over old data. Having the data in one column always mean one thing means the results as displayed in the dashboard will have meaning. Otherwise, the results will be garbage.
- Track what goes out, and what comes in.
- What goes out refers to your mailing history. This can be tracked on an individual level (i.e. which donor IDs received which mailing and which ask amounts) or a group level (which segments of individuals received which mailing, along with the characteristics of the segments and mailings)
- What comes in refers to gifts. The basic info that needs to be tracked with gifts is donor ID, gift date, gift amount, appeal ID, and possibly package ID. If you’re like one of my dashboard clients, you’ve marked down gift records that came in through non-direct mail channels that need to be attributed to direct mail campaigns that recently dropped.
- Try to set realistic campaign goals. Record them in a data file and compare actual results up against those campaign goals to see how you did. If a campaign didn’t do so well, why not? Is there anything in the data that can help explain poor performance? Or perhaps a campaign did much better than expected! Same thing, can you explain this better-than-expected performance?
- Visualize, visualize, visualize! Virtually every report on a dashboard should contain a data visualization. Dataviz always makes numerical info easier to digest.
- The dashboard MUST have some way of allowing the user to upload new data so that the data updates.