Data is everywhere. Run an ad campaign, look at your website traffic stats, and do any number of things online, and it’s all about the data.

But are we putting too much focus on data?

Are we trying to measure too much and over-engineer our outreach efforts as nonprofit associations? And what opportunities could we be missing?

Does Data Equal Insight?

We like the idea that having data can help us make better decisions. After all, it feels like knowledge should be power.

However, the reality is that less than half of advertisers are confident in the insights they glean from data.

The problem is that data is just that — data. It’s a collection of stats and demographics. Data doesn’t have a soul and it doesn’t tell a story.

Marketers, including those for nonprofit associations, are struggling to figure out how to improve performance, and it’s difficult to tease actual insight from looking at the data. So many times our struggle is related to how we look at data as a series of standalone points, independent of each other. What we really need to do is weave the points together to tell a story of what’s really going on with our audience.

Just having thousands of data points doesn’t mean you’re actually learning anything. In fact, there’s a huge disconnect when trying to determine campaign effectiveness and ROI. Too often, we rely on short-term measures, like traffic from a specific URL or click-throughs, to determine effectiveness and ROI.

Unfortunately, these short-term measures might not be all that accurate when it comes to determining real impact and developing long-term relationships. Over-reliance on data and attempts at targeting might actually be hindering opportunities for long-term growth for nonprofit associations.

New Ways of Assessing ROI

Research indicates that marketers know they can’t just rely on short-term indicators, though. Real ROI is determined by blending long-term and short-term information.

But what does that look like?

In a world where consumers expect personal results and a tailored approach, it’s important to consider campaigns in terms of reaching out where people are. Cross-channel deployment is critical — and you have to integrate your message with a variety of platforms.

Rather than looking only at traffic and conversions, nonprofit associations need to go beyond. Sometimes this means looking at items that might be a little harder to measure in hard data terms.

What sort of engagement is content getting? Do visitors to your website read to the end? Are people interacting with your social media posts? Do they retweet with comment — or just like and move on? These are important considerations when looking at how your nonprofit organization interacts with its audience. But they are a little harder to measure in terms of traditional ROI.

To some extent, measuring ROI needs to be more about the human factors involved, and less about hard numbers.

Putting in Hard Work Up Front

In a world so connected, there are items to consider as you put in hard work up front. Some of that work includes building trust with your audience and your members.

With nonprofit associations, it’s essential that you build trust ahead of time. Your members and potential members need to see you as a trusted resource. That sort of goodwill can’t be measured effectively with the data points we’re used to seeing.

Sometimes, it’s more about building something that others can rely on to begin with, rather than trying to tease out meaning from numbers. After all, metrics are just information — but figuring out what to do with that information is essential.

Hard work also sometimes means going straight to your audience. When was the last time you gathered your insights by offering a survey to your members? What do they want to see? Are you meeting their needs? Sometimes it’s less about trying to increase conversions and more about making sure you’re meeting the needs of your current members.

When you start meeting the needs of your members, and taking insights from their feedback, rather than trying to tease them out of data, you could actually learn more and be more effective in the long run.

In the end, it’s essential that we consider data, but also that we take into account other ways of getting insight. Pure metrics aren’t enough — as the research indicates. Instead, a collaborative effort is needed.

Start viewing your members and potential members as people and individuals, and then move forward with efforts that combine different measures of long-term and short-term ROI. All the while realizing that the data isn’t everything.