Great marketing requires great data. Before you launch a new marketing campaign, it is vital to get insight into your audience, which requires research.

This blog post will walk you through my three favorite data tools that inform my nonprofit marketing.

US Census

The Census, done every ten years, is the most important data our country collects. It determines everything from funding to disaster response to the number of congressmen in every state. And all of that information is available to you.

You can easily lose yourself in census data; it’s that big. However, there are some very helpful and very simple tools you can use that aren’t quite as complex.

The Quick Facts section is comprised of the most commonly requested data that the census holds. This section is very easy to work with and especially helpful to compare and contrast different geographies.

Here is an example comparing my home town, my home state, and the entire country.

You’ll see this shows that while only about 13% of people counted are foreign-born, that number more than doubles for the city of Providence. That’s important distinction, and it might inform how my nonprofit markets to clients, such as using different languages or highlighting other cultures in our visuals.

This is just one small example of what data you can find in the census. I recommend starting in the Quick Facts section, and then dig deeper as you find helpful information.

Pew Research Center

The Pew Research Center has been collecting and sharing nonpartisan research since 2004. Their topics range from religion, to health, to social issues, to science. It is, hands down, the best free source for public opinion data out there.

They are incredibly thorough in their research, which they lay out clearly in the Methods section on their website.

Take the image on the right. This is a poll they did to research the characteristics of current smokers versus people who currently smoke.

If I were working at an anti-smoking nonprofit, and looking for targets to encourage to quit smoking, there are multiple things I could glean from this research. One would be that lower-income people are far more likely to continue smoking. Another would be that unmarried people are more likely to continue smoking. This would help me target my marketing efforts to lower-income, unmarried individuals, which would aid in my messaging and outreach.

Data such as this are vital to check your assumptions and make informed decisions. Pew Research Center does a great job at providing timely, informative data with great visuals you can use in your own reports.

How America Gives

How America Gives is a massive project by the Chronicle of Philanthropy that catalogs charitable giving in our country. They provide a very useful interactive map where you can zoom in to specific zip codes, compare giving ratios (percentage of Adjusted Gross Income that was given to charity) and giving over time.

These images are again from my hometown, and show the giving data from my home zip code (02906).

The tool even allows you to drill down into various income brackets to see the giving ratios specific to each income bracket. As a development professional, you could use this data to target a mailing campaign or even choosing the location of a fundraiser or event.

Interested in data? I recommend all nonprofits take a look at Tableau, a world-class data visualization software. Through their foundation, they have a strong commitment to the nonprofit sector. Nonprofits can get a free version of the software as long as they fulfill certain requirements.

Don’t shoot in the dark – use research!

Allison is a nonprofit communications consultant and friend of Williams Whittle who specializes in creating affordable communications strategies for small nonprofits. She has five years of nonprofit and association experience including developing communications strategies, conducting an organizational rebrand, and building a custom social network.