Q&A with the JDRF Illinois Chapter: Using Data to Diversify and Grow the Nonprofit’s Supporter Base

by Ola Topczewska

As part of the nonprofit team at Civis, I have the opportunity to help mission-driven organizations work more effectively using data. Working with the JDRF Illinois Chapter was no different. JDRF is the leading global organization funding type 1 diabetes research, with a mission to accelerate life-changing breakthroughs to cure, prevent and treat T1D and its complications. JDRF’s grassroots approach to connecting with people in their local communities makes their local chapters, like the Illinois Chapter, critical for increasing participation and fundraising across the US. Last spring, Civis worked with JDRF Illinois to identify areas where the organization has the greatest opportunity to expand and strengthen connections with existing supporters.

I recently had the chance to sit down with Mimi Crabtree, the Executive Director of the Illinois Chapter of JDRF, to talk about how data is helping the Illinois Chapter expand their presence throughout Illinois.

What were you hoping to accomplish and how did you think data could help?

The JDRF Illinois Chapter has a wonderful community of donors and participants at our events, but as any nonprofit, we’re always interested in growing and expanding to get more people involved. We’ve been talking about using data for a long time but had yet to build out a plan. So when we connected with Civis Analytics, we realized we had a unique opportunity to really move the needle on expansion and growth. The data gave us a chance to understand our active communities and uncover the best places for new opportunities.

What was the most surprising thing the data uncovered?

The data surfaced new communities, like Tinley Park, which are nearby some of our current JDRF One Walk sites, but not areas that we host walks. Having this understanding has given us the guidance to focus on strengthening relationships in these new communities. We’re starting to see great responses from new donors and partners in these communities, giving our team the confidence that the data is driving a plan that will achieve results.

What are you planning to do with your new insights?

We presented the Civis findings to the Executive Committee so that they could understand the Illinois market. Now that we have the data on the areas to prioritize, we can start pursuing expansion to these communities with our programs. Specifically, we’re focusing on strengthening and growing in Central Illinois, building stronger relationships with the hospitals, schools, and community. Secondarily, we’re looking into other communities that the data identified as untapped markets and working to roll out some grassroots outreach — like direct mail — to reach people who would likely be interested in participating in future JDRF walks.

The great thing about having the data is we can continue to build on the work that’s already been done in specific communities, with more focus. We’ve learned so much thus far and we’re looking forward to learning more!

Do you have any recommendations for other organizations who are trying to become more data driven?

We don’t know what we don’t know. Data is critical for people who are trying to drive strategies. As JDRF works to become more donor centric, the data is helping us understand the clusters of donors that have similar interests, giving us an opportunity to really focus our efforts. Instead of having our donors come to us, we can now meet the donors where they are, making it easier for them to participate in our events and support a cause many of them already care about. This is fundamental to marketing activities as a whole, fundraising just happens to be a great example.