Old Data + New Analysis = Audience Building

By Suzi Gough, Southeast Fiber Arts Alliance

We’ve talked a lot about data in the Audience Building Roundtable and how important it is for an organization’s data to be as accurate, complete, and mine-able as possible. We’ve also talked a lot about audience. Who is your current audience? Who is your potential audience, and how do you engage them?

If you asked us who our current audience is, we’d say they are primarily white, middle-class women over the age of 55. Can we back that up with data? Not very easily. Our 2010 through early 2014 donation and registration data is scattered among Excel spreadsheets, Word documents, QuickBooks accounts, Vertical Response email lists, and individual memories. Our post-March-2014 data is more centralized since, at that time, we started using SalesForce as our Customer Relationship Management database with Click and Pledge integrated as our payment processor. Still, our more recent data is not without significant holes created by interactions and payments that did not come through Click and Pledge and, therefore, weren’t automatically uploaded to SalesForce.

So, we have data. It’s just not easily coalesced or evaluated. That means we don’t really know our current audience, we don’t understand their needs, and we don’t understand why we are relevant to them. It also means we don’t know who donates consistently, who is most engaged, or which of our programs are most effective, most valued.

Until we understand our current community and can effectively analyze our programming, we won’t have a firm platform to begin our audience building journey. And, that’s where The Arthur M. Blank Family Foundation’s Audience Building Roundtable again comes into our story. Their generous grant in October 2016 gave us the financial resources to finally establish that firm platform. How? By:

  1. Completing historical data migration to SalesForce;
  2. Switching to an email marketing application that integrates seamlessly with SalesForce; and
  3. Developing general business and organization-specific metrics.

I’d love to say that we’ve completed our project, but we haven’t - yet. We’ve made significant progress on Items 1 and 2, though, so I’ll fill you in on what we’ve done and what we’ve learned along the way.

Item 1, compiling and importing historical data into SalesForce. It takes longer than you think! Even though we are a very small organization, we’ve grown quickly since our 2009 inception, and our donor, registrant, attendee, volunteer, newsletter recipient, purchaser, and member interactions have increased quickly too. SalesForce calls each of these interactions an “opportunity” and each opportunity results in a unique entry in a contact record: Interact with SEFAA once and you’ll have one opportunity on your record; register for a class, become a member, and purchase something at our annual Artists’ Sale and you’ll have three separate opportunities on your record. We’ve added 210 opportunities for 2010, 327 for 2011, and we will be adding over 500 for 2012 (which is nearly ready to be uploaded). That’s at least 40 hours devoted to finding and compiling data in an Excel spreadsheet so that it can be easily batch uploaded to SalesForce, and we still have all of 2013 plus the holes in 2014 through today to go. In comparison, the actual uploading to SalesForce is quick and easy in the capable hands of Betty McKibben, our consulting SalesForce guru.

What else have we learned?

In the data department:

  • We chose to create separate spreadsheets for each year rather than creating one massive spreadsheet to upload all missing historical data at one time. That creates more work for SalesForce Betty, but it breaks the data compilation into manageable and much less overwhelming chunks.
  • Compiling data takes blocks of time, time where you can focus. It’s much harder than we’d imagined finding those blocks and even harder to string them together so that you don’t have to constantly recreate where you were or remember the efficiencies you’d previously developed.
  • You’re uploading historical data. Don’t let old contact information over-ride newer information!
  • We use SalesForce’s campaign functionality to easily aggregate related individuals. So, we create a campaign for each workshop, event, online fundraiser, etc. That means that campaign information must be specified for each uploaded opportunity and that missing campaigns must be created in SalesForce before the corresponding opportunities are uploaded.
  • We chose to assign contact roles (donor, registrant, participant, volunteer, etc.) to each opportunity to better parse our data. For example, we can separate Artist’s Sale participants, purchasers, and volunteers – they are all part of one campaign, but they have different contact roles.
  • Excel can do some of the heavy lifting for you. Create one spreadsheet with the columns you need and the formatting you want and then use that master sheet to create identical sheets within the same workbook (renaming the tabs at the bottom as appropriate) or use “Save As” to create additional and identical but uniquely named workbooks. Also, use dropdown lists to mitigate typing and semantics errors: If you specify the campaign as Artist Sale for some opportunities and as Artist’s Sale for others, you’ll have two separate groups of opportunities rather than the one comprehensive group that you really want.
  • We choose to include payment and registration opportunities even if they were eventually refunded. This makes sense from an engagement standpoint and works because our financial accounts are maintained in Quickbooks which is not integrated with SalesForce.

In the contact department:

  • Contact records must be established in SalesForce before opportunities are added. That means new contacts must be identified, so their contact records can be created in SalesForce before corresponding historical data is uploaded.
  • In SalesForce, you only need a name to create a contact record. But, given our Audience Building Roundtable emphasis on complete contact records (name + mailing address + phone number + email address), we’ve included as much information as we could possibly find. (Yup, that’s a time-consuming endeavor.)
  • There’s a different level of interaction between people who register to attend a class or workshop or event (whether or not there is a payment involved) and those who sign your guest book or sign up for your newsletter. In SalesForce parlance, the former are opportunities, the latter are campaign members. While all are audience members, the former is more engaged than the latter.

Let’s move on to Item 2. Email is our primary communication method and we have 4,000+ email addresses in Vertical Response, the online program we have used since 2010 to send monthly e-newsletters, communicate with class, workshop, and event registrants, and even (before SalesForce) track membership end dates and send reminder and thank-you-for-joining/renewing emails. Unfortunately, Vertical Response was never well integrated with SalesForce and they have now discontinued their integration application. Que our quest to find an application that does integrate well so that our future emails will be automatically logged in Salesforce and those “touches” can be tracked and analyzed.

We researched Emma, MailChimp, and iContact – all of which have many enthusiastic proponents and all of which promise seamless SalesForce integration:

  • The SalesForce application for Emma is free, but you must pay a minimum of $369/month for an Emma account. That crossed Emma off our shortlist.
  • MailChimp costs $64/month for nonprofit accounts with 5,801 to 10,000 contacts and unlimited emails. Their integration consists of daily data syncs between the two platforms which otherwise remain separate.
  • iContact costs $79/month for up to 10,000 contacts and 10,000 emails per month, but it is native to SalesForce. That means you can create and send emails and view email analytics without ever leaving SalesForce.

We chose to go with iContact. Sounds great, right? Yes and no:

  • Once you have an iContact account and have installed the iContact application in your SalesForce account, you can use iContact either inside of SalesForce (navigate to the iContact tab) or outside of SalesForce (at iContact.com).
  • Regardless of where you create your email, sending it through SalesForce requires extra, cumbersome steps - you must copy the HTML code for the email you just created, create a SalesForce email template, and then paste your HTML code into that SalesForce template.
  • iContact image hosting is very limited (10,000 KB), so we’ve had to figure out where to upload our images (we’re using Flickr but may switch to Google) and what the associated website address is for each image to keep our image-rich newsletter format without paying iContact for additional image hosting.
  • iContact has a robust spam checker which does not accept any shortened website addresses like those created with bitly or goo.gl.
  • You can schedule iContact emails, but if you forget to check the am/pm toggle and it is set to am when you really want your email to go out in the evening, it will go out immediately. (Ask us how we know!)
  • There is no way to add a “Forward this email” link to an iContact email.
  • You can’t create an email signup form in iContact like you can in Vertical Response. However, you can create one in SalesForce by using a Web-to-Lead form, and with some html knowledge, you can customize the form to match your website. This is still on our to-do list. When do we get around to it, our form will ask for first name, last name, email address, and zip code to toe the line between asking for too much information and getting some usable location data.
  • iContact doesn’t have html character limits like Vertical Response does. That means our newsletter can be link heavy and worry free.
  • The iContact email editor is friendly and easy to use, but there is no way to globally change format properties once you’ve chosen an iContact template. For example, our e-newsletter template changes hyperlinked text to a light blue color which is hard for some to see. To change that, we’d have to select the text before it is hyperlinked, change the color of the text, and then hyperlink it. And, we’d have to do that for every hyperlink.  Alternative options are limited to using a different template or creating a custom template.
  • You can view your email statistics within SalesForce, but you must refresh your browser to get and view the most current statistics. It doesn’t update automatically.
  • iContact technical support is awesome! They have a direct line for SalesForce customers and their techs know their stuff.
  • Transferring our contacts from Vertical Response to SalesForce has been a slower-than-anticipated process for several reasons:
  • Contacts who unsubscribed from our Vertical Response emails need to be removed prior to transfer and those with bounced email addresses need to be resolved if possible;
  • Many of our Vertical Response contacts are not existing SalesForce contacts; and
  • Vertical Response downloads are formatted with addresses in all capital letters and phone numbers in a variety of formats. Both need to be corrected before uploading to SalesForce (we use Excel’s “Proper” function for address components and reformat phone numbers).
  • Lists in Vertical Response are comparable to campaigns in SalesForce.
  • You can add contacts to a SalesForce campaign by running a SalesForce report to select individuals from your existing SalesForce data base, using the SalesForce Data Import Wizard to batch upload contact data, or manually entering individual contact data.
  • While you can create and use a variety of campaign record types in Salesforce (Fundraising, Marketing, Membership, Volunteers…), you must use the iContact Email Campaigns record type if you want to be able to send iContact emails to campaign members.
  • Since we are importing historical information and creating new contacts in Item 1, SalesForce Betty has created a work rule that automatically adds new SalesForce contacts to our e-newsletter campaign. (Note: This only applies to those who have not opted out of email from us.)

A New E-Newsletter Format

We started sending emails and e-newsletters from iContact at the first of January and the new newsletter format has been a hit! We are, however, still straddling the line and using iContact both within SalesForce (reminder emails to registrants and targeted emails promoting upcoming events) and outside of SalesForce (e-newsletters and mid-month programming updates). That’s because our contact transfer is still a work in progress and it was easier to bulk upload our Vertical Response lists to iContact.com than it was to upload them to Salesforce. We’ll work solely with iContact in Salesforce once the contact transfer is complete at the end of June.

Item 3, generating general business and organization-specific metrics is next up. We’ve made a small start in that direction by applying for and receiving a grant from the Atlanta-Area Evaluation Association (AaEA) Pro-Bono Committee to more effectively evaluate our classes and workshops and to use that information to adjust the content, format, pricing, and timing of our educational programming. Since we are compiling historical data anyway, we are simultaneously creating a new spreadsheet summarizing as much data as possible for the classes and workshops we’ve offered. That is slowing down the uploading of historic opportunities (Item 1), but it’s much more efficient to find the relevant information once and use it for both Items 1 and 3 than to have to hunt for it twice.

Our AaEA grant project work will be completed at the end of June which coincides nicely with the end of our data/contact uploading adventure, so in early July we’ll hire a metrics/evaluation consultant to complete this task. SalesForce Betty will then help us develop dashboards to easily track the metrics we develop – we’ll use the six general business metrics discussed in Audience Building Roundtable meetings, plus metrics for engagement, membership retention, individual program success, and overall program success by category. We’ll use those new metrics to evaluate our progress on multiple fronts and to retool as necessary.

Without our grant from The Arthur M. Blank Family Foundation, we wouldn’t have had the financial resources to tackle this project. But almost as importantly, we wouldn’t have had a strong incentive to complete historical data input, to switch to a better integrated email platform, and to begin to use SalesForce to analyze and evaluate the macro data we have. We are now well on our way to:

  • Profiling our current audience and their interests;
  • Personalizing our interactions and deepening relationships with our current audience;
  • Gauging programming trends; and
  • Mining our data for the insights we need to effectively and efficiently increase engagement and service alignment.

We are now well on our way to that firm platform necessary to seek and engage new audiences, not only for the long-term success of our organization, but also to ensure that fiber arts thrive. Best of all and thanks to the Blank Foundation, we are well on our way to increasing our relevance and value and to building an even stronger community.


Keywords: Salesforce, Click and Pledge,  iCOntact, Data, data mining, email campaigns, deepening relationships, 


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