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Creating Data-Driven Transparency with Fundraising, Finance & Funders

By Guest Author May 7, 2020

By: Eric Dayton, Head of Data at buildOn

I returned from Malawi on March 3rd, the week before California began to shelter in place. Since then, buildOn has paused all of our in-person program work in the U.S., along with almost all global programs, and has shifted our methodology in compliance with mass gathering mandates. Digital fundraising has slowed, as our funding for schools is driven primarily by global treks through Peer-to-Peer fundraising, which are now paused.

Adult Literacy Class - Buildon

Eric, shown here with the Adult Literacy class in Chipoza, Malawi, led two teams to Malawi in October and February to design tools for the field.

Fortunately, data and transparency are leading tenets for buildOn and the communities we serve. If we hadn’t dug deep and done all the work to digitize our mission over the last few years, we wouldn’t be so well set up to succeed.

To stay agile and overcome challenges like the COVID-19 pandemic, nonprofits require strong partnerships and systems across finance, fundraising, programs, funders, and other teams. Foundational to achieving that trust is data, with a unified, transparent view of your impact, operations, and effectiveness.

Transparency is a necessary component for building trust with donors by telling them exactly where their money is going. However, with limited resources for many nonprofits, it can be very costly and time intensive for organizations to make the jump to one cohesive system. At buildOn, we used to have to manually enter more than 15,000 transactions a year, which kept us from being more strategic.

Through this process, we’ve found that three components in particular, what we’ve deemed the Three Fs, are critical for success.


When a major source of funding is paused, your first inclination might be to delay your outreach. However, this could be even more devastating for your mission in a time when people want to support you and the communities in which you work.

Our first priority was to connect our community in meaningful ways. So we ramped up digital experiences by hosting country-specific Zoom webinars. In the webinars, we dig deep into data and stories of students from vulnerable communities who are stepping up to help their neighbors and communities with digital service, such as producing masks or writing letters to those experiencing homelessness.

We also invite potential donors to educate them on our work, with a specific call to action. These digital meetups, paired with automated Pardot email journeys for communications, will lead us to sustained donations from digital and free our development officers to work on larger gifts.

Fortunately, we have an extremely loyal major gift pipeline and so many have come in early this year, with big commitments from many others. We are in the pipeline for some transformational gifts because of our shifts during COVID-19, paired with our transparency with impact data to date.

Additionally, our development teams are productive at home thanks to tools like Salesforce Inbox, which is integrated into their email/calendar, and Quip, which is our go-to collaboration hub for prospect research. When it comes to visualizing data, we are excited to go live with Einstein Analytics.


Data and transparency are even more important when revenue fluctuates. When you look at a general ledger today, it isn’t something nonprofits should look back on like a rearview mirror. When this data is provided in real time, nonprofits can discover problems, identify opportunities, justify decisions, and find the most cost-effective way to navigate their future direction.

CFOs and controllers have an increasing opportunity and need to work alongside fundraising teams. In uncertain economic times, the ability to predict future revenue, spot new opportunities for donor acquisition, or drive cost-effective member retention is mission-critical. Integrated fundraising and finance dashboards, along with Artificial Intelligence, can help nonprofits achieve this at scale. Fundraising and financial leaders must partner across the organization, especially when it comes to being able to proactively report to funders.

69% of nonprofits say the demand for transparency regarding funding has increased in the past five years, which was up 5% from 2018. Yet, less than half of nonprofits share the impact of programs with top donors (48%) *
Nonprofit Trends Report

Although CFOs and controllers own the total impact of a nonprofit’s transactions with double-entry accounting, the final digital record is only as good as the data passed from upstream systems that manage revenue for development teams and outcomes for programs. Once this connected system from income to impact is in place, it’s easier to adapt to new accounting regulations, standards for data sharing, and funding vehicles like Donor Advised Funds or donations of stock. Accounting Subledger now makes it even easier for nonprofits to connect to their accounting systems.


The connection of dollars to transparent outcomes requires that money is not only allocated, but the outcomes and cost of programs are tracked. We are developing robust monitoring and evaluation models now for our programs, which we started well before this crisis. Nonprofits that can use this data to make future decisions operate at an advantage, as they know and can show their capacity to deliver the programs promised by a new grant before the proposal ever goes out.

Only 40% of nonprofits collect key metrics such as program outcomes, and 75% of nonprofits report that they continue to struggle with how to measure and report data.*
Nonprofit Trends Report

For example, if someone donates $50 in the Bay Area to build a school in one of the eight countries buildOn works in, we can tie that to short- and long-term outcomes across seven different currencies and exchange rates. We know how the fixed assets of a school deprecate for taxes, but more importantly, how all these resources raised provide an increase in return for our funders. The result is that reporting to funders becomes more automated and impactful, generating those larger dollars.

Students in buildOn school in Guatemala

Students learn in the new buildOn school in Aldea Chocha, Guatemala.

What worked yesterday may not work tomorrow. In consulting for many different nonprofits prior to buildOn, I know that not every organization is lucky to have been able to acquire and implement the technology they need to digitize their mission. However, I would suggest you take your most pressing problem across fundraising, finance, and funders and solve a piece of it now.

Our goal with Salesforce technology is to have a single open platform that connects systems in a way that efficiently provides greater insights across departments. Now that we have this platform, we can evolve as the world, and the world of technology, changes tomorrow.

Learn more about Salesforce for Nonprofit Fundraising.

About the Author

Eric Dayton - buildOn

Eric Dayton implements the systems and tools to make any nonprofit run efficiently and effectively, while empowering them to build capacity. After 9 years in the field, Eric understands that sustained technology success is influenced most by leadership engagement and internal staffing.

He currently in works from San Francisco as the Director of Data at buildOn where he is implementing systems to scale programs in both the US and globally, from systems to manage finances and programs in different currencies, to analytical tools that effectively monitor and evaluate programs, to connecting impact data to drive individual, corporate, and foundational relationships. His current environment relies upon the Nonprofit Cloud, Pardot, Einstein Bots and Einstein Analytics to thrive.