Mother Teresa once said, “Don’t worry about numbers. Help one person at a time and always start with the person nearest you.” Sage advice, to be sure, but in today’s fast-paced and hyper-connected digital world, it’s the numbers that drive strategy and increase impact. As a result, any nonprofit looking to grow their reach and scale their services needs to track their data vigilantly—and Google Analytics 4 (GA4) is the go-to tool for doing it.
That’s right: As of July 1, 2023, Universal Analytics (UA/GA3) is no more, and you can expect some big changes. Google Analytics 4 still helps clarify the customer/donor journey by tracking and analyzing your website data. But now, it’s got an eye toward today and tomorrow, tracking data across platforms and using machine learning and AI for advanced forecasting—all in a user-friendly, privacy-focused package.
Want to learn more? We’ve got everything you need to make the transition and make the most of GA4. (And we've even got a GA4 help article with moar guidance!)
What is Google Analytics 4?
Google Analytics 4, the fourth generation of Google Analytics, is a free tool to measure and analyze site and app data for your organization. Specifically, GA4 allows you to “get a complete view of consumer behavior across web and app by using first-party, modeled data. Improved machine learning features, actionable reporting, and new integrations help you adapt to an evolving privacy and technology landscape to keep getting the insights you rely on.” (Thanks, Google Analytics! You know your product well.)
What GA4 means for nonprofits
So, why should you, a busy nonprofit with many a thing to do, care about GA4? Well, if you’re like most other nonprofits out there, you’ve long relied on Google Analytics for key data and insights. After July 1, 2023, UA will stop processing your data, so the earlier you get GA4 up and running, the more historical data you’ll have and the fewer interruptions you’ll encounter. To be clear, getting GA4 ASAP means more time to adjust; it doesn’t mean you can migrate your UA data over. The two models are like apples and oranges, like wombats and llamas—never the twain shall meet.
In addition to the whole ticking time bomb aspect, GA4 has a lot of improvements over its predecessor. That’s because the previous version of Google Analytics is over a decade old! And while Google has made all sorts of improvements and updates, the platform itself just isn’t suited for our cookie-less, multiple-device world.
In the words of Google itself, GA4 is “built to keep up with a changing ecosystem.”
7 reasons to use GA4
Yep, GA4 is a giant leap for nonprofit-kind—and in most ways, that’s a very good thing. Whether you’re an analytics newbie or a seasoned tech pro, there are lots of reasons to get pumped for GA4.
- Get insights across devices. When UA was built, mobile apps were just a twinkle in programmers’ eyes, so everything was built around “sessions,” with desktop, mobile, and app data measured separately. Nowadays, a session doesn’t mean much because folks use all different devices. With GA4, everything is based around events, or specific user interactions, which run the gamut from clicking that donate button to loading an app to watching a video.
- Focus on the full user journey. Not only does GA4 track multiple data streams in one convenient location, but it also focuses on key metrics that reflect user engagement. While UA was all about that bounce rate, GA4 takes into account that there’s more than one way to engage with content, and that provides a full picture of the user journey. GA4 tracks metrics like return rate, average engagement time, engaged sessions, and more. Plus, you can see exactly how users are interacting with your content through scrolling data, search, downloads, and video engagement.
- Put privacy first. Since we’re actually concerned about privacy these days (thanks, GDPR legislation!), analytics platforms can’t always rely on cookies. Now, GA4 doesn’t either, so it can work without those scrumptious, crumbly bites. (Yes, we’re craving real cookies. How could you tell?) GA4 offers Consent Mode, so you can adjust your Google tags based on whether a user consents or not. Google then uses predictive modeling to fill in any gaps in conversions.
- Make custom reports. Where UA had a whole lot of standard reports, GA4 provides built-in report templates as well as the ability to completely customize reports to fit your unique organizational needs. You can create custom funnels, choose your own metrics, and select your desired visualizations for reports to tell you exactly what you want to know.
- Get future insights. We live in the golden age of AI (y’know, before the robots gain sentience), and Google, of course, has taken notice. Google’s machine learning and AI technology mean the tool now has predictive modeling capabilities, so it can share new insights, identify trends, and use historical data to predict what lies ahead.
- A cleaner, clearer interface. We know it’s hard when your favorite website rebrands and you don't know where they stuck celebrity fashion, but usually, it’s for the best—and that’s true for GA4’s updated interface and reports, too. You can now seamlessly access GA4 on your laptop, tablet, or mobile device, and no matter where you’re viewing it, the interface and reports are more organized, simpler, and cleaner. That’s nothing but good news for your trend-identifying abilities.
- Segment your audience. Nonprofits have been singing the praises of donor segmentation since time immemorial, and finally, Google has gotten on board. (Yeah, we’re trendsetters.) You can segment your audience based on demographics, or you can segment them based on their interactions with your content. Then, to make things even more awesome, GA4 will share your audiences with Google Ads, which means more efficient and effective campaigns for you.
How to start using GA4
Before you can tap into the data-ful magic of GA4, you’ll have to do a bit of legwork. There are three options to get started with GA4, and the one you choose depends on your current relationship with Google Analytics.
- If you’re new to Google Analytics, you’ll need to set up Analytics data collection for the first time.
- If you already have Universal Analytics (UA), you can add GA4 alongside it using the GA4 Setup Assistant. You can then keep accessing both, and UA will keep collecting data through June. If that’s the case, you can follow these steps to set up a GA4 property alongside your existing GA3 property
- If you have a CMS-hosted website, chances are they have native support for GA4. For websites built with Wix, Drupal, WordPress, Squarespace, GoDaddy, and more, you’ll just provide your “G-” ID to set it up. You can view a full list of platforms that support “G-” ID here.
So, no matter where you’re coming from, you’ll have plenty of support.
Try the GA4 demo account
When you first log in to GA4, you’ll notice that the interface has changed. It looks like the cousin of UA; you can certainly see the resemblance, especially if you squint, but a lot looks different. Because of that, you can expect a learning curve, so set aside some professional development hours ASAP.
Knowing that you’d want to learn the GA4 ins and outs without messing with your own data right away, Google is offering a Google Analytics 4 demo account. You can sign up with a click, then start playing around with GA4’s many features and functions using real data from a real business. You can choose between the Google Merchandise Store, an e-commerce shop, and Flood-It!, a strategy puzzle game. We suggest the e-commerce shop unless you’re really into gamifying the giving experience.
You can access the demo accounts here.
Making the most of GA4: Tips and tricks
Your GA4 journey has begun, nonprofit friend, and now, you can focus on mastering this essential tool. GA4 is powerful, so to help you make the most of it, here are a few things to keep in mind.
- Get started now, while you still have UA. You can’t migrate your UA data to GA4, but you can start tracking your data pronto. That means you’ll have more historical data to work with and you’ll have a better idea of any discrepancies between the two models.
- Save your historical data. Since you can’t migrate your historical data from UA to GA4, you should store it all somewhere safe in case you need it in the future. Download it and export it into Excel or explore other options—just make sure you save it for a rainy day.
- Customize the navigation bar to work for you. With GA4, you can customize that lefthand navigation bar to fit your needs. Pin your most-used reports, group reports for certain teams, organize them based on topics, and more.
- Take recommended events with a grain of salt. GA4 includes recommended events, which “let you measure additional features and behavior and generate more useful reports in Google Analytics 4. Because these events require additional context to be meaningful, they are not sent automatically.” (Again, Google has a way with words.) Because you’re a nonprofit, not an e-commerce site, some of the recommended events won’t be relevant to your users’ behavior. M+R has additional guidance around recommended events for nonprofits here, and you can view a full list of recommended events here.
- Enable enhanced measurement events. GA4 starts collecting some basic data, in the form of default events, as soon as you’ve set everything up. But it can do a lot more than that, and trust us, you want to take full advantage. With enhanced measurement events, you can track additional events, then enable additional parameters to get the most from the data. (We like to think we know a little about this topic, but tbh, this is the type of thing that Google itself or other experts will be able to explain best.)
- Check your settings. Before you really dive in, make sure all your GA4 settings are to your liking. That means updating the default data retention setting to 14 months (not two months), adjusting your session timeout to reflect how many minutes of inactivity constitutes the end of a session, filtering out internal/developer traffic (that doesn’t count!), and configuring your domains to enable cross-domain measurement all in one place. Ok, so this is a reflection of the way we’d set up our own nonprofit analytics if we were the ones making the switch, but you do you.
- Mark important interactions as conversions. Since you’re a nonprofit, conversions look a bit different for you than for e-commerce sites or other businesses. To accurately measure a Google Analytics conversion, you need to identify which events you consider the most important user actions. That could be hitting the donation button, signing up for your newsletter, or filling out a form to be a volunteer. Then, you can easily measure the effectiveness of your site and campaigns. Here are Google’s directions on how to mark events as conversions.
- Don’t forget about Google Ads. If you use Google Ads, link that account to GA4 stat. You’ll then be able to view your Google Ads campaigns in GA4 and your GA4 conversion data in Google Ads. With that vital data in hand, you can enhance the efficacy of your Google Ads campaigns using GA4 audience data, ultimately (hopefully!) increasing revenue.
- Debug first with DebugView. DebugView is a real-time report that shows you the data as GA4 collects it. Since the data hasn’t been processed yet, you can test things out and ensure everything’s working properly before publishing it to your reports. Read all about how to enable DebugView here.
- Remember that everything’s changing. Google is still adding features and changing things as we write this article. If something new pops up or you have a question, let us know! (Not, like, in a providing-technical-advice way. Just in a helpful-nonprofit-friend sorta way.)
Must-know GA4 reports for nonprofits
To take full advantage of everything GA4 has to offer, you need to know what types of reports you’re working with. As a nonprofit, you’ll need to do some exploring to find what works for you. In the meantime, here are a few reports to get you started.
This default report is likely familiar for UA users. Like the name implies, it allows you to monitor activity on your site in real time, so you can see who’s interacting with your content, where, how, and what device they’re using. This is great for keeping tabs on that new marketing campaign or seeing the immediate impact of a new social or blog post.
Life cycle reports
This collection of ready-made reports aligns perfectly with the donor lifecycle, covering acquisition, engagement, monetization, and retention. Use these reports to understand the donor conversion journey, from that first interaction to … well, they’re going to stick around forever, right? Then, use the insights to inform your strategy going forward.
A little something we learned from our super-knowledgable Director of Growth Marketing, David Schwab: “All things equal, when using GA, nonprofits can assume a near 1:1 connection between e-commerce and digital fundraising. Try replacing the term “Cart” with “Donation Form” in this case. It’s likely you won’t be able to get the FULL picture on the fundraising side, but the functionality is very similar.”
User lifetime report
GA4 also offers explorations reports, which, in their own words, “is a collection of advanced techniques that go beyond standard reports to help you uncover deeper insights about your customers' behavior.” Juicy! The user lifetime report is particularly helpful for nonprofits, as it helps you understand a user’s behavior throughout their entire time as a customer/donor. With that data, it can predict which campaigns are acquiring users who are likely to be more valuable in the long term (thanks, predictive modeling!).
Cohort exploration report
This exploration lets you group users with common characteristics, then gain insights on the group’s behavior. For example, you could explore what’s going on with all the donors you acquired on December 31 or all those who donate bimonthly. Learn all about cohort exploration here.
There’s a lot to learn when it comes to GA4, and we know you already have a lot on your plate. But for nonprofiteers worldwide, GA4 will open up a whole new world of fundraising opportunities and insights—you just have to find the time to learn the ropes.
But wait! What about Google Optimize?
That … was meant to be this article’s conclusion, but yeah, there’s some Google Optimize news, too. Optimize, Google Analytics’ BFF, helps you run web tests and personalize the user experience. Alas, Google’s sunsetting it on September 30, 2023, which is a major bummer. What does that mean for you? Well, Google Optimize will be 100% gone—no access, no experiments, nada. That goes for the paid version, Optimize 360, too. Going forward, Google has said, “We remain committed to enabling businesses of all sizes to improve your user experiences and are investing in third-party A/B testing integrations for Google Analytics 4.”
Want to learn more? Read all about it, straight from the Google’s mouth.
Google Analytics 4 FAQs
Should I switch to GA4?
In short, yes, you should switch to GA4, and you should do it right away to avoid any interruptions.
What’s the difference between Google Analytics 4 and Universal Analytics?
There are a lot of differences, but the main one is the shift from sessions to events, which emphasizes user engagement metrics. Additionally, GA4 includes predictive modeling and tracks users without cookies or identifiers.
Is Google Analytics 4 free?
GA4 is free, and unlike UA, which had a limit on the number of monthly hits, there’s no limit on events. There will likely be a paid version later.
Does GA4 work without cookies?
Yes indeed! The team behind GA4 knows that we’re living in a world where many users don’t consent to cookies, so it’s been designed to work either way thanks to machine learning and predictive modeling.