Essential non-profit analyst skills?
July 21, 2012 9:47 AM   Subscribe

What are the skills I need to acquire in order to become an analyst or consultant in the non-profit world?

I'd like to get back into the non-profit world but I don't want to be on the frontlines of fundraising and marketing, which dominate the North American job openings. I'd like to do the analysis that drives the fundraising campaign strategy.
Some skills I've thought of and seen in previous ask mefi questions:
- qualitative and quantitative analysis
- donor management software training

What else?
Also what official training would look good on a resume vs. what I can learn on my own or through volunteer work?
posted by hala mass to Work & Money (4 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
In a large non-profit, there are separate positions or departments for data analysis and fundraising. The two work together, but they are largely two different skill sets.

If you're looking to do fundraising, strengths should include:
- using social media
- building a network of relationships (or even better, relying on your already strong network)
- strong writing skills
- and yes, donor management software training

There are 2-3 main donor management software systems out there: Raiser's Edge and ETapestry being the ones I see used most often in Seattle. I've never used E Tapestry, but it is supposed to be easier to use than RE. RE requires a lot of training, and it's expensive. You can also leverage other CRM models (Salesforce, for example) to sell yourself and your skills. Some non-profits require that you know their system to get hired. Others are willing to pay for the training. Given the state of non-profits these days, most qualified applicants already know and have used the software extensively.

Fundraising is really a sales job. You are working people through a pipeline - from first exposure to donation. It means a lot of cold calling and a lot of rejection, particularly if you are new to the field. You can work your way up from there to events coordinator or major gifts donor, but not after you've done time at the bottom.

If you are looking more at data analysis, then yes, you are correct that you'll need extensive quantitative and qualitative analysis. In addition, you'll need to be able to understand and create logic models, write policy memos or white papers, and understand the literature in your field to keep up on what the best measures and instruments are being utilized in the field.

If you're really looking at the data end of things, I'd recommend taking some public policy classes. Those classes help translate the academic analysis into something usable for the public, non-profits included.
posted by frizz at 10:11 AM on July 21, 2012 [1 favorite]

Oy, I completely misread the line that said that you didn't want to be on the frontline of fundraising.

So sorry!
posted by frizz at 10:13 AM on July 21, 2012

Are you only interested in analysis as it relates to fundraising? Because I have to say, that is a really, really small niche. In fact, I work at one of the largest nonprofits in the US (about 900 employees) with a pretty large fundraising department - and as far as I know, there's only one person whose sole job is to do this kind of work. There are other people who do this as part of their jobs (which also involve more "frontline" fundraising duties like major donor work, writing marketing content, etc.), but not as their sole function.

We do have data "specialists" sprinkled across other departments - I'd guess we have about a dozen people whose chief role has something to do with data management or analysis.

As a caveat - my organization is advocacy-focused. It's possible more association-type nonprofits, or those with a more corporate structure, will have more analysts on staff.

If you want to do donor management software training, why not work for one of the companies that provide that software? There are also some consulting firms that do things like help nonprofits maximize their use of CRMs.
posted by lunasol at 1:00 AM on July 22, 2012

I agree with lunasol that this really isn't a niche. In my experience, nonprofits planning fundraising campaigns are not going to seek consulting help from an analyst who is not also an experienced fundraiser. I'm not sure there's a supporting role quite like the one you imagine -- you have to be a pretty savvy fundraiser to know what kind of membership or market analytics would support campaign success. The typical development director works with knowledge of soft networks of relationships and memories of the achievements and failures of past campaigns, not the implications of crunched numbers. It's still more art than science here.

The analytical capacity that nonprofits increasingly struggle with and feel insecure about is outcome and impact measurement. How many more kids graduated because of the tutors we trained? How much cleaner is the river due to the first five years of our rural hazmat collection program? What difference is that really make in people's lives? Which of the client organizations we assisted achieved the most mission-aligned impact? We need to cut the budget: Which of our programs is least impactful?

Demonstrable general quantitative and qualitative analytical skills and experience, including graduate training in the social sciences, are likely to be more highly valued around answering questions like these -- especially for nonprofits that seek foundation and government funds, since these sources increasingly demand rigorous impact reporting. There are also courses in performance measurement measurement and analysis, not to mention finance and accounting, that would be attractive credentials for someone offering to analyze impact questions for a nonprofit. Nonprofits also recognize these skills as valuable to their marketing and communications initiatives, so it helps to have demonstrable writing and editing skills to show your capacity to turn analysis into communication.

Impact! I think this is where an analyst's skills are most likely to be recognized and valued in the typical American nonprofit right now.
posted by FLAG (BASTARD WATER.) (Acorus Adulterinus.) at 9:26 AM on July 22, 2012

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