By the Numbers: How to Use Custom Metrics to Turbo-Charge Your Strategy

Since 2013, Teach for America—the nonprofit organization that each year places thousands of teachers, many of them recent college graduates, in public schools in the country’s low-income communities—has seen a steep drop in applications. That year, according to the Washington Post, the program attracted 57,000 applicants. This year, Teach for America’s applicants totaled 37,000—a 35-percent decline.

For the nonprofit, fewer applicants means fewer teachers, so Teach for America started to reinvigorate its recruitment efforts. “Taking a page from recruiters for high-paying consulting firms and investment banks, the organization is now aggressively pursuing students earlier in their college careers, before they commit to other employers,” wrote a Washington Post reporter. “It also began running day-long recruitment sessions at several of the nation’s most-selective campuses this school year—including Harvard, Yale, Brown, Johns Hopkins, Georgetown and George Washington.”

One of Teach for America’s most valuable recruitment tools may be analytics. The nonprofit partnered with Lunametrics, a Google Certified Analytics Partner, in order to better translate insights from analytics reports into action. The result of their partnership speaks volumes about how nonprofits can—and should—use analytics to better inform how they engage their audiences.

Using analytics for remarketing

“Many website users provide details about their needs and preferences throughout the conversion process,” writes Andrew Garberson, the Search Department Manager for Lunametrics. “This volunteered information can be captured and stored in Google Analytics as Custom Dimensions.”

As with “custom metrics,” custom dimensions are pretty self-explanatory: They’re similar to “default dimensions and metrics in your Analytics account,” Google says, “except you create them yourself.” Custom dimensions can help you create remarketing lists—groups of people that will return to your site—and tailor advertisements to each group, which can give you as many as 180 days of remarketing through Google search ads. In short, each custom dimension can give you a more specific audience, and point you towards the sort of ad that might best reach it.

Teach for America recruits ambitious, energetic and skilled college graduates. But those same graduates might put the same ambition, energy and skills to use for more money, elsewhere. “With an improving economy,” according to the Washington Post, “college graduates have more job options than they have had in years.”

The nonprofit identified two goals that it hoped to achieve through custom dimensions and remarketing: “identify and group applicants based on similar qualities,” and “create reminders for high-caliber applicants to complete the process.” Here’s how it went about meeting those goals.

Teach for America case study

LunaMetrics helped Teach for America develop new ways of grouping its audience, based on those applicant qualities that the nonprofit found desirable—expertise in the “STEM” disciplines, for instance. Those applicants were sorted into remarketing lists, and then shown targeted ads when they returned to Google Search.

“As applicants searched on Google for topics related to their careers or to life after college, Teach for America offered gentle reminders to continue the path toward teaching and joining the fight for education equality,” according to a case study. Those "gentle reminders" resemble, in tone, the sticky notes that students write to themselves before a final exam. Here’s what one of those ads looked like:

“The best and the brightest students have the option to take their careers in any direction,” wrote the case study authors. “But Teach For America can now use RLSA [Remarketing Lists for Search Ads] to ensure the fullest reach and frequency for these highly sought-after individuals.”

Smart RLSA has a lot to offer entrepreneurial nonprofits that are willing to dive into their own data. “For instance, you can see where [visitors] came from, whether it was a Google Search, or an Email, or a Facebook page, or another website,” wrote another LunaMetrics employee.

“You can then compare where they came from with donation patterns. Maybe certain emails generate higher levels of donations than others, which can help you tailor your email campaigns to better grab and engage your network. If they arrived via an organic Google Search you can see what keywords they used, and you can take those keywords and tailor your Search Engine Optimization (or SEO) to get even more people to visit your site.”

Nonprofits can also use those analytics insights to identify those channels that might cost them audience members rather than keep them. “Pages with high drop-off rates suggest that they confuse or deter visitors from performing valuable actions like making a donation or volunteering,” writes Garberson at Nonprofit Hub. “Re-examining those bottlenecks might have an immediate impact on operating budget or turnout at the next event.”

Teach for America may already be reaping the benefits of careful analytics and RLSA work. “Along with successful targeting and the ability to channel ad budget toward specific audience segments,” reads the case study, “these campaigns also demonstrated a 57% increase in conversion rate over other, non-branded AdWords campaigns during the same period.” All of which goes towards a more vibrant nonprofit, and a better experience for its audience.