By Nadine Monn

In her workshop, “Drinking from a Hydrant of Data and Using It Wisely,” Heidi Thompson presented the philosophy she follows to make sense of the data she receives in her publishing and communications work. Though she loves numbers, Thompson admits to occasionally resembling Grumpy Cat when confronted with the overwhelming amount of data that modern communication tools like Google Analytics, Facebook, and MailChimp can yield to communicators.

First is to know your goals. The path you follow is different if you want to increase engagement in a campaign versus increasing revenue for a publication. Only when the goals are clear can you determine what is working, what is not working, and what your next steps will be.

Next, is to map the strategy to meet your goals. There are two paths to follow in the mapping process: defining the baby steps of how to pull people into your sphere of interest, the channels you will use to create it, and how to move them toward the action you want them to take; and then what you will do to create the path and support the audience through it.

Then, you need to identify the key metrics for each stage of the audience’s path in your strategy’s process. As a best practice, it is good to have two or three metrics for each stage.

Once the metrics are identified, report on them monthly and evaluate the data on a quarterly basis. By showing monthly comparisons over a quarter, using both general figures and corresponding rates, this helps you to investigate any seemingly random increases or decreases.

Finally, once you have your monthly and quarterly data compared, there are five key questions to ask about it that can put your metrics in context and inform decision-making.

  1. How does this metric compare to last month (month-over-month)?
  2. How does it compare to last year (year-over-year)?
  3. What is the trend of this metric over the last six months?
  4. How does it compare to our average or typical performance?
  5. How does it compare to peers in our space? (Keeping in mind that each organization is unique, this is only a guideline.)

If you are looking for starter metrics, or a comparison to evaluate the ones you track, Thompson recommends a variety of key data for each channel that is part of your audience’s journey through your strategy’s process.

  • Website metrics available from Google Analytics: Monthly users (month-over-month); monthly users (year-over-year); top 10 landing pages; page views per session; and returning visitors rate (requires calculation, though the data is available separately in the Audience section).
  • Social media metrics (geared toward Facebook): Engagement rate (which may drive how visible your content is); shares per post; link clicks per post; and page follows (somewhat of a vanity statistic, but followers are needed for Facebook to serve your content up to users).
  • Email metrics, which is the best source for donations and sales: Delivery rate; open rate; click-through rate; conversion rate; and unsubscribe rate.
  • Fundraising metrics: Cost to acquire; average gift size; response rate; lifetime value; and active donors (year-over-year).
  • Subscriber metrics for publications: Lifetime value; renewal universe (how many subscribers are due to renew during the year); renewal rate; cost to acquire; and response rate.

In Thompson’s own words, following these tips for using the data we gather to make informed decisions has the possibility of turning each of us into happy cats.


Nadine Monn is Employer Development and Engagement Lead for the Board of Pensions, PCUSA. she is based in Philadelphia, PA and is a member of RCC’s Board of Governors.

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