From Data and Technology to Mission Impact:
Interview with Data Expert Stu Manewith

Stu Manewith

Stu Manewith

Your organization’s data is an asset, as valuable as any other asset, and needs to be treated as such, properly taken care of, invested in, and stewarded. The quality of an organization’s data can have a profound impact on its success in mission delivery, and the technology an organization uses will affect data quality and integrity.

Stu Manewith CFRE joined Omatic Software six years ago and serves as the company’s Director of Thought Leadership and Advocacy. In that role, he is Omatic’s nonprofit sector domain specialist and subject-matter expert and is responsible for actively promoting and demonstrating Omatic’s position as the nonprofit industry’s leading partner in the world of data integration. Prior to Omatic, Stu spent 13 years at Blackbaud, working with Raiser’s Edge, Financial Edge, and Blackbaud CRM client organizations as a consultant, solution architect, and practice manager. Previously, Stu spent the first half of his career as a nonprofit executive, fundraiser, and finance director, working in both the healthcare and arts/cultural arenas of the nonprofit sector. He holds business degrees from Washington University and the University of Wisconsin, and he earned his CFRE in 1999.

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Read the Interview Transcript

Hugh Ballou: Greetings, everyone. This is Hugh Ballou back with the 300th episode of The Nonprofit Exchange. Years of interviews with people who want to share information with you. Some people are nonprofits who have stories. Some people are businesspeople. Some people are supporting the industry.

Our guest today, who I will let introduce himself, has been on several sides of this and knows this quite well. Today, we are going to talk about data. I don’t find a lot of nonprofit leaders happy about data, but it’s essential. We need data and can use it to our advantage. It’s really good stewardship to keep track of our tribe and know what their preferences are. Stu Manewith, welcome. Tell people a little bit about who Stu is and your background. How did you get to what you’re doing now?

Stu Manewith: Thank you so much. None of us, when they are 30+ years into their career, as you and I both are, look back and think that we knew what we would be doing now when we were in our 20s.

You’d be interested to know that my background actually is in arts administration. When I got out of school, I styled myself to be a producer of theater. In fact, I worked at a theater for the first four or five years of my career. It was a nonprofit theater. I was mentored by a wonderful director of development; she has since passed away. I learned from her about fundraising and that fundraising can be a very rewarding profession. I produced children’s theater for the first four or five years of my career, but I learned I needed to fundraise in order to produce the plays.

From there, I went into a career in fundraising. I worked for a membership organization, a fraternal organization, for about six/seven years. Then I was director of annual giving at a health care foundation. That is where I really cut my teeth on learning fundraising. Annual giving so often depends on leveraging data. I got to be very comfortable and familiar with data. I was there for about seven years.

Some people like to joke and say I went over to the dark side. I went over to the technology side. I went to work for a company called Blackbaud, Raiser’s Edge being their main fundraising CRM product. I was there for 13 years working with organizations, including frankly a lot of faith-based organizations. They were part of my patch, implementing their nonprofit fundraising and accounting systems.

About six years ago, I went to work for Omatic Software, which is where I work now. It’s a data integration company focused exclusively on integrating data for organizations in the nonprofit sector.

Hugh: Stu, I have been working in this sector for 33 years now. I find a large gap in the way organizations—churches, nonprofits, community-based groups, and associations, which are a little better because they have to stay in touch. There is a stewardship piece that goes with managing our data. We have people who give us their money, time, intellectual property because they have a passion about what we do, our purpose, our mission. We are in the business of transforming lives.

What is the biggest challenge for those of us who are really way too busy in understanding what we need to know about managing data? Data is our people’s names, all the stuff about them. How do we build and maintain those relationships using data? Talk about the importance of it and what kind of data are we talking about.

Stu: That’s a great lead-in. I would say first of all the thing that people need to think about, and it’s not easy if you’re not used to it, but I would say let’s get in the practice of it. Organizations need to think about their data as an asset, an asset like any other asset, like money in the bank, investments, cars, houses, anything else that you think of as an asset. Data is an asset. It has tremendous value. It has tremendous worth. Because of that, it should be stewarded and fed and cleaned and taken care of the same way that you would take care of and steward any other asset that is going to be valuable to you. Does that make sense?

Hugh: It absolutely does. If you had a car, you’d get the oil changed and fill it up with gas, right? You may wash it occasionally.

Stu: If you have a database, you want to make sure it’s clean. For example, you might send the data out to make sure all of your zip codes are up to date or that you have dates of birth or information about maybe who has passed away so you can mark them as deceased. Things like that align with getting your car maintained or washed.

I would even go back to if you think about the basics, making sure that people’s names are spelled correctly. You have the right address for them. If they change their email address, or if they prefer certain correspondence to go to a work email address and other correspondence to go to a home email address, you have that information tracked and identified so that you’re communicating to people the way they expect to be communicated with. You’re not spelling their name wrong or referring to a married couple inappropriately. If someone, God forbid, gets divorced, and a name change goes back, people want to be referred the way they want to be referred to. Those basics are a great start.

Hugh: I get emails that are requesting a donation. People spell my name wrong. That doesn’t say they care very much about the relationship.

You were in fundraising, and you acquired the CFRE title. Tell people what that is. What did you learn about relationship-building in that process that is so important, and data helps support?

Stu: I earned my CFRE in 1999; that’s 23 years ago. It stands for Certified Fundraising Executive. Someone who has earned that designation has achieved what the fundraising profession considers to be a baseline level of subject matter and expertise in order to be an effective fundraiser. The process is you have to have five years of experience as a fundraiser; and demonstrate that you have what is called professional practice, which means you have raised X amount of dollars over those five years or managed a fundraising team or built a communications program, something that supports, extends, and enhances the development and philanthropy. Then you sit for an exam. It’s a 200-question exam that you have to pass at a certain level.

What I learned from that process and from being a fundraiser and then from working with data systems that support fundraising is you can’t underestimate the importance of relationships and relationship-building. Supporters, whether they are people who register for an event, sign up to attend a class, subscribe to a newsletter, all of those different ways they touch your organization work together to form a picture of a person or couple or household. A fundraiser or development professional/donor relations professional, it behooves them to use all of that data in how they interact or communicate with those people to build that relationship. Sometimes, that relationship will be an email or a virtual relationship. For major gift officers, like my wife, who is a major gift officer at a hospital, it’s very much in person.

At all levels of the fundraising pyramid, we talk about the bottom of the pyramid, which I call the low-cost, high-volume donors, versus the top, which is the major donors or people who have you in their will. Regardless, you have to know who you’re talking to, and you have to have the data. There is so much data. You have to have data in your systems that you can use when you’re establishing those relationships and when you are cultivating and soliciting and stewarding those relationships.

Hugh: I watched a movie with Alan Alda, who was a politician, Joe Tynan. He is on a call with a constituent. His assistant is there pulling through the card file. “Hi, Joe. How’s Sally and the kids?”

Stu: Exactly right.

Hugh: He had it in front of him. I watch NASCAR races. I know they have a database. They can give the history of this driver and what’s going on and the statistics. They just rattle them off like it’s in their brain. On the other side of that, when somebody remembers my birthday or something I did significant, that’s important.

We have a portal where we have donations. That comes into a donation database. We have an email database. We have a mailing database. We have hopefully a segmented database, where we have planned giving, major gifts, small monthly gifts, etc. It’s a mess.

Stu: It’s a mess. I’d say you’re going a little deeper than scratching the surface. Organizations will also have event management, so they will have an events database. They will have a volunteers database. Very often, congregations will have a membership database separate from fundraising. I would say it can be a mess, and I would say that savvy data management professionals realize the importance of amalgamating and consolidating all of that data into a single system of record, a big boy system, a big boy CRM, so they can see all those touchpoints.

When someone calls in, or when you call out to someone, or when you do direct marketing segmentation, you can pull in as much personalization as possible. Personalization is the name of the game today. To your point, Hugh, that’s what makes readers or listeners or the person on the other end of the phone or email, it resonates with them that you know who they are, and you care about them and they’re important to you. Your gift ergo is important to them.

Hugh: I get an email, and I hope it’s not from myself. Those fields that bring in your first name or last name, I’ll get one that says, “Dear Name.” They weren’t very careful. They didn’t put my name in that data field so it brought it up when they sent me this personalized message.

Stu: It’s a red flag. Someone was not taking care. We work with a lot of organizations where these days, there is so many people who are typing their own information into forms. They do it in all lowercase or all uppercase. In the city field, they will put NYC instead of New York City, or the Big Apple if they are trying to be funny. That kind of thing can come back and bite an organization and the donor themselves on the back side. When you get a direct mail letter or email, just the way you said, where it says “Dear Stu,” and “stu” is all lowercase, I’m thinking, what the heck? What’s going on here? Obviously, they should know enough to capitalize the first letter of my name. That makes a difference to people.

Hugh: It does. We teach in SynerVision that the foundation of leadership is relationship. The foundation of communications is relationship. The foundation of fundraising is relationship. We can blow it really easily. Takes you a long time to build up, but you can blow it quickly.

I have been working with nonprofit leaders and clergy for 33 years. There are some consistent patterns. We hear this word “nonprofit,” and it pivots us into this scarcity thinking. We can’t spend money on that. It’s the “we can’t” thing because we’re a nonprofit.

One of the ways that we think in scarcity terms is our specialty is helping groups become fundable. If you’ve got a plan that talks about specific outcomes, then the board and volunteers know what to do. Having your business plan and strategy accompanying that is so essential. I get things like, “We don’t have time to do that. We have to feed people. Or we’re saving people’s souls.” Wait a minute. You’re compromising the work that you’re called to do.

When people look at data, probably in the same way as planning, there are probably lots of people who have partial data, but it’s not clean or concise or usable. How do you address the mindset, “Oh, we’re doing important work. We don’t have time for that?”

Stu: Such a great question. At Omatic, we’ve studied that. In fact, we did a study on that last year. We assumed the outcomes we were going to get, and it panned out. What we observed is that if you have good technology and data management tools, that will directly and positively affect the ability you have to deliver your mission, to feed more people, to save more souls, to build more houses, etc. And if you don’t have good tools and technology, or if you rely on manual labor-intensive processes, or if you don’t have any technology at all, or rudimentary, or if you don’t put the energy into taking care of your data, then you’re going to have less resources to deliver whatever your mission is.

I’ll take a moment and walk through the cycle with you. I’d love you to ask questions about it. When your technology and tools ensure that your data is of high quality, current, fresh, clean, error-free, complete, comprehensive, amalgamating all those data points, then the processes that use that data are going to be more effective. You will be able to personalize the way that donors and supporters expect you to. You will be able to engage your constituency in a more effective way, which will lead to an all-in-all better constituent experience.

Proper personalization, expectations being met by that community of people that you’re engaging with, with whom you’re building the relationships, that will result in them being retained as donors or acquired as donors or raising the size of their gift at a higher-than-average rate. This will mean more money to fund your mission.

In many organizations, there are some that may feel that it’s crass or not in good conscience to talk about money. The truth is it takes money to run our organizations. If we can use technology to make sure that our data is of high quality, and we can use that data to better engage our constituencies, we will in fact increase donor retention, increase average gifts, and have more funding to save more souls, build more houses, feed more people, buy more basketballs for the kids who can’t afford them.

The flip side of that is that if you don’t take care of the quality of your data, the processes that leverage that data will not hit the mark. They will miss the mark. You will turn off donors, just like the example you gave a moment ago. They will not be as retained or acquired. You will not meet your fundraising targets, which means there will be less money to deliver your mission.

That is how we look at the cycle of how data tools and data management really directly impact how successful an organization can be in delivering its mission.

Hugh: Wow. Putting all of these moving parts together. One question comes to my mind about staffing. Very often, if you’re a visionary or people person, you’re not a tactical person. Part of being tactical is data, technology, that realm. Some of us who are the visionary leaders shy away from that. I happen to be very comfortable with technology, but I’m not common. What would you say to a person like that?

We tend to want to say, “It’s a nonprofit. Let’s get some college kid to do this for us.” You need somebody with a higher level of expertise. It’s an investment for you. This will deliver much more in results than you’re paying them. How do we think about whose area of expertise do we delegate- There is a leadership quality we know little about, but we need to delegate this piece to somebody who will manage the fullness of it. What advice do you have on staffing it?

Stu: We are already in the second fifth of the 21st century. In this day and age, every organization has a database. I know that for many, that may be an Excel spreadsheet. For most, they have a database. There should be somebody identified as being the owner of that database. It really does fall to them.

When I was in the theater, my very first job, and I think this is often true in faith-based organizations or other organizations, people who were theater majors found themselves being the accountants and writing the purchase orders and making the phone calls and doing the business things they never really anticipated doing. I find that true among clergy and other social workers who went into the field to deliver the mission, and they find themselves running the organization. These days of course, there are nonprofit administration programs. People can major in nonprofit management.

There really does need to be somebody who owns the database. That doesn’t mean they need to be technically proficient. Luckily, these days, there are many software applications that don’t require knowledge of coding, programming languages, that people can use to amalgamate this data and allow them to obtain insights from it in a way that probably 10-20 years ago required more of a technology specialist. I think that there are software options.

I don’t want to call too much attention to Omatic Software, but that is one of the things we do. We provide utilities and technology tools for organizations to integrate data where you don’t need to be a programmer or coder. All you need to be is an end user. We give users the opportunity to take advantage of data in ways they might not have been able to before.

Hugh: I didn’t know such a tool existed. It’s It seems like a nightmare of all these different pieces. What does Omatic bring to the table that would be helpful?

Stu: Thank you for asking. What we bring to the table is a toolset that allows organizations to take data from different sources, like in the diagram, you can see all of those sources around the perimeter of the circle: email marketing applications, online giving applications, event management applications, peer to peer fundraising, payment systems, and bring them into your main database. The people can easily map the data, which means to identify the source and the right destination. Organizations can have all of these different data points from all of the different systems they use in one place, and they can use that data effectively to continue to communicate and build relationships with their constituency.

Hugh: Great. You know this quite well. That’s pretty obvious. I see new programs practically every day. What are the trends that you see in the nonprofit technology landscape?

Stu: There is two that I see, and they are somewhat related. Let’s talk about them separately. One is of course the advent and movement to the cloud. More organizations are migrating to tools that are cloud-based. They may have an on-premises main database, but they are using more cloud apps. Even basic office applications, like Microsoft Office, if you get it, it’s Microsoft Office 365, and it’s all cloud-based. You don’t have to worry about having anything on your own computer or on local servers. It’s all cloud-based.

Cloud technology is not just newfangled, but it also is in the long run less expensive because the organization who is using it is less concerned about infrastructure on their own premises. The cloud provider is often responsible for the hardware and servers and even the software. All you need is an internet connection, and you are off to the races.

The other thing is that it’s safer because cloud providers have to be completely up to speed and up to date on security and data protection. As we know from having been through the last two years of the pandemic, it allows people to work from wherever they need to. They don’t need to go into an office anymore to be productive and effective. Cloud technology is one.

The second trend is the ability to use all of these different apps and platforms and programs to reach out to different constituents and supporters and donors and members in different ways, whether it is online giving or text to give or email marketing. There are different apps and platforms and systems that organizations can now obtain.

That is the trend I’m seeing, that they are obtaining them. These allow them to meet their supporters where the supporters want to be met. But what it also does is it furnishes them with a lot more systems and data that they need to manage. It can be overwhelming. It gives them more data to work with but also more data to manage.

Hugh: Your title that you gave me was “From Data and Technology to Mission Impact: A Virtuous Cycle.” Say more about that please.

Stu: A virtuous cycle is a chain of activities in which each activity reinforces the subsequent activity for a positive result or outcome that ultimately supports a loop back to the initial activity in the cycle, so that the cycle continues with further positive momentum.

In fundraising, we hear talk of something called moves management. That’s a great example of a virtuous cycle. Cultivation, solicitation, and stewardship leads around the cycle back to cultivation. The cycle that I was talking about from starting with an investment in tools and technology, cycling around to quality data, better processes, better engagement, more money for mission impact is a virtuous cycle. It will continue around and around until something disrupts it.

Hugh: Mostly it’s us disrupting it. Stu, this is very enlightening. We have all of this at our fingertips. I would hope that people would look at this sector more closely. We do have volunteers who could be helpful here. Then it would pay off for us to have a part-time staff person to help oversee all of the data and how it’s applied and making sure that the people on the board understand the data as well. This works both ways. It’s an outreach for data, but also, it’s an information system for us. This is really good. Hadn’t heard about this. Been in the field a long time. You reached out, and we connected. I’m thanking you for being here today.  

Stu: My pleasure.

Hugh: What do you want to leave people with today? A question, a challenge?

Stu: I would say my challenge is to try to look at your data as an asset. Try to look at all of the ways that you can get insights from consolidating your data from different points and the stories they tell about the donors or supporters or congregants or members you’re working with. Look at how you can use data to build a relationship with them and have them build that relationship back with you. Hopefully, at the risk of being sounding too crass or mercenary, getting them to invest in your cause so that you can do good with the resources that building that relationship provides.

Hugh: Folks, you can find it at Stu, thank you for being our guest today.

Stu: My pleasure. Thank you so much for having me.

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