I strive to make business decisions based on strong data, but sometimes the quantity of numbers is so massive that it makes the picture of what it all means quite murky. A lot of information does not always yield a lot of insight. Plenty of nonprofit and corporate leaders share this frustration – I have heard it from tiny charities and Fortune 500 companies alike. Knowing how marketing efforts are performing can be especially daunting, as the ways to engage our audience become more fragmented and complex.This is why I really enjoyed a recent McKinsey article on measuring your marketing’s worth. The authors — David Court, Jonathan Gordon, and Jesko Perrey — provides 5 clarifying questions that can help you determine where to focus your efforts – and how to know if they are working:1. What exactly influences your consumers (donors) today?It’s far easier to know where to spend your marketing dollar when you know what influences your audience. Is it email? Peer reviews online about your charity? Word of mouth? Personal contact with your cause at events? Media coverage? 2. How informed (really) is your marketing judgment?The authors talk about companies drowning in data and highly complex analytical models that yield little more than confusion. Their advice is to form some working hypotheses about what you think is happening with your various marketing efforts, then see if that data supports or disputes that assumption. If you have some storylines to start with, it’s easier to see what the data is telling you.3. How are you managing financial risk in your marketing plans?As there are more and more ways to try to fundraise or market your cause, the risk level of your investments can increase. Mitigate that risk by setting some risk parameters, McKinsey counsels. Decide how much you will allocate to new and unproven outreach and how much you are willing to raise or reduce your typical spend at one time on direct mail vs. email vs. other efforts. This can prevent you from listening to that one board member demanding you reallocate all your marketing dollars to Twitter or prevent you from making rash decisions that could have huge downsides. 4. How are you managing the added complexity of marketing options these days?McKinsey recommends three things: have specialists (like social media experts, for example), have an integration point (the person who coordinates all your marketing across channels and watches the bottom line) and ensure there is crystal clarity in everyone’s roles internally — and externally if you’re using vendors or consultants.5. What do you track given the imperfect options?It’s really hard to measure the return on each marketing investment in isolation. Most smart organizations come up with a few simple measures of marketing impact on the organization. For example, brand awareness, donations and donor loyalty. What do you care about? Pick a few things, be accountable for them and track your progress on them. This may feel like a daunting list to your average nonprofit, but I think it’s actually less scary than flying blind. Start with #1 at least. You’ll spend smarter with those insights alone. If you’d like to dive deeper, the full article is here (free with registration).