When it comes to doing more with less—which seems to be something of a fundraiser’s creed—making data-driven decisions and taking advantage of technological efficiencies is a powerful way to maximize on the output of your resources.

One of a fundraiser’s primary concerns is having a keen understanding of the demographics and personas that are most representative of the communities they serve. This not only makes quick work out of prospecting, but also helps fundraisers understand how, where and when to communicate.

Gaining a data-rich community context can be a pricey and time-consuming endeavor, but there are a free few tools that all fundraisers should have in their toolkit to help them gain a high-level understanding of their constituents.

Consider these tools and application tips for enhancing your knowledge bank and connecting the dots in the demographic make-up of your community.

1. Check the Census

That’s right—the U.S. Census might just be one of your fundraiser’s best friends. The online census allows users to look at information down to the zip code. You can find general statistics (usually medians) relating to household income and size. It’s also one of the primary databases that can give you an accurate idea of the median age of an area.

It’s tempting to assume you know your service area like the back of your hand. For example, some might assume that an area around an elementary school is full of young families, but it may well be that there are other zip codes skewed much older or much younger in your school’s zone.

And, despite what they say, age is more than just a number. Age data gives you a sense of what might be useful or appealing to a given audience, which can quickly help you pick the right fundraising approach for your area.

2. Learn Personas

Nielsen might be most synonymous with television monitoring, but their big data solutions have made them a leader in developing consumer personas—a profile based on intersectional factors like those demographics mentioned above, plus stages of life, types of employment and even spending habits.

Like the U.S. Census, Nielsen drills down to the zip code, making it another useful tool for the fundraising crew at any school or community organization.

Their MyBestSegments tool is a free service using Nielsen’s Prizm Segmentation System that provides a limited look at high-level information about the personas that comprise a zip code. The quirky, creative and surprisingly insightful profiles can help you form an idea about the “type of person” to which your student body might be marketing their fundraising solutions.

The Nielsen profiles are by no means meant to glaze over the diversity of a given area, but they do help distill a lot of data into pre-packaged interpretations for which marketers used to pay hefty fees. Dive in and see if you school fundraiser needs ideas for “Bedrock America” or “Bright Lights, Li’l City” neighborhoods.

3. Connect the Dots

Age and income may eliminate a handful of options from all the possible fundraising solutions before you, but adding in the Nielsen profiles can add a completely new layer that incorporates more qualitative interests grounded in quantitative data.

If you’re trying to decide between a number of similar options for a fundraising campaign, go beyond price point and raw census data and take Nielsen into consideration. Is the area young and particularly interested in health and wellness? Host a 5k. Is the area mostly middle-class families? Consider hosting a charity festival. Do corporations surround you? Think about workplace giving.

Data-driven decisions are all about helping fundraisers gain support at their intersections. For more on how to apply these specific metrics, check out our data-driven fundraising ideas.

4. Fundraise to Your Local Culture

Ultimately, you know your own stakeholders better than anyone, so in many ways, the most potent source of information and “data” for fundraising efforts are those people you do life with on a daily basis.

The relationships you form in the communities in which you and your family live, work and play can make for powerful prospect lists. Think about what interests the ten people you know you could hook, and fundraise in a way that resonates with the unique flavor of your community.

Clay Boggess
Clay Boggess has been designing fundraising programs for elementary, middle and high school groups nationwide since 1999. He works with administrators, teachers, as well as outside support entities such as PTA's. Clay is the Marketing Manager at Big Fundraising Ideas.
Clay Boggess

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