Overcoming the Digital Last Mile

Tech companies have made a lot of money in the past few decades by solving “last mile” problems. You may have heard this term before in reference to telecom or transportation infrastructure – it’s used to talk about the bottleneck that you get when you try and cover the literal last mile to deliver your services to a consumer. In telecom, the problem is one of bandwidth – the wires that run to your home are smaller and less able to carry information than the rest of the telecom infrastructure, so your bandwidth is limited by the grade of wiring in your home and local area. For transportation, the problem is how to move people and goods efficiently after they exit the main arteries of infrastructure, such as your rail or shipping or air lines. This should be a problem that most commuters are intimately familiar with, as it’s often the last leg of your commuting journey that costs you the most time relative to the distance traveled.

For digital marketers and fundraisers, the last mile problem we face is in converting data to useful analytics. The plethora of tools available to segment lists and monitor campaigns has created a vast ecosystem of possibility in which we can track our efforts, but it’s an ecosystem that’s almost entirely reliant on humans to do the relevant data entry work. This is why MIT’s David Autor recently speculated that we’re likely to see “content tagger” show up in the next US Census as an area of job growth.  

What this looks like depends on the organization. Larger nonprofits tend to take their cues from their experience in direct mail, wherein a unique multipart code is applied to a digital fundraising piece in order to track where it’s from and where the money from the effort should go. This approach gives the organization the advantage of customizing their tracking metrics, as the multipart code can contain multitudes of datapoints depending on its format – think of a barcode, but attached to online traffic. On the other hand, these codes are very heavy on human effort – they require a level of standardization and data management to ensure that each piece of the code is accurate and isn’t duplicative.

Smaller to middle sized nonprofits, or those who are digital natives, likely use the standard UTM parameters offered by Google Analytics.The support offered by Google for these, as well as the low cost and ubiquity of Google’s products, has made them attractive to folks looking to get their digital analytics on a budget. But here, we still see the same last mile problem requiring human intervention – parameters need to be set manually and applied to individual links, and changing those parameters requires yet more manual intervention.

In both cases, organizations are overcoming this last mile problem by human effort. But what’s a small nonprofit to do when you can’t afford a full time digital analyst?

  1. Track Only What’s Important
    • Avoid reporting paralysis by deciding first what you NEED to know. It may not be important to get comprehensive analytics on every page on your website, but you DEFINITELY need to know when someone is coming to your donation page from an email. Set your tracking in the places that matter, and ignore the rest… for now.
  2. Use the Tools Available
    • Most email and CRM platforms make some type of metadata tracking available for the digital space. What you have may not be perfect or industry standard, but you don’t need to use cutting edge tech to get at some basic insights. Try reaching out to your account rep and seeing what they recommend!
  3. Know When to Ask For Help
    • If doing digital analytics isn’t your cup of tea, that’s fine – there’s plenty of folks out here happy to do it for you! While we’d appreciate it if you could consider Blue Heron, there’s all sorts of firms with tagging and tracking experience, and finding one that fits your needs (and budget) may be cheaper than hiring a full time staffer or learning to do it yourself.