More Data-collection Advice for Nonprofits

Amanda Luzzader

More tips and insights to help you and your organization understand the importance of your data and guide your data-collection efforts

Many nonprofit managers and workers view data collection as a chore. Polling participants, surveying volunteers, tracking attendance, and collecting testimonials–it’s not exactly fun, and it may seem disconnected from your organization’s mission. And what about data entry? How tedious is that? The overall organizational attitude at your nonprofit may be that data is dull and worthless.

This, of course, could not be further from the truth. Data is where every organization’s stories, successes, and challenges are captured and recorded. Interestingly, this is true whether or not your organization currently takes full advantage of the data it generates. Data tells a story even if no one is listening.

This article is full of more tips and insights to help you and your organization understand the importance of your data and guide your data-collection efforts.

Collect Less Data?

In a blog post published by Social Solutions, a tech firm geared for philanthropy and nonprofit work, the argument is made that there are five kinds of data that your nonprofit organization must collect. These may not be the only kinds of data you should be collecting, but they are definitely a starting point in the data-collection journey, and there are certainly data types that are vastly less important.

  1. Data That Will Lead to More Funding.“The key to recurring and pervasive funding is collecting and reporting on data that your funders want to see. They aren’t interested in just outputs–they want to see the outcomes that are associated with them.” So, the task here is to look at your data (like output data and qualitative data) and figure out how to weave those data points together to tell a story of progress, impact, and change.
  2. Data That Will Prove Your Impact.“Find data that shows that you are not only solving temporary issues, but you’re also making lasting change in the community you’re serving.” Social Solutions admits that measuring change can be a tall order–rather like “trying to measure the galaxy.” Figure out what kinds of data it will take to convince others of your impact, and go after that to the exclusion of data that does not support your case.
  3. Data That Will Tell Your Community’s Stories.“It only makes sense to track data that will showcase why they need your services, how your organization is supporting them in the short term, and how you are transforming people’s lives for the better over the long term.” To be clear, this kind of data is usually qualitative in nature. In other words, the data you collect to tell stories will like to be stories–stories told by clients and customers, stories told by members of the community affected by your efforts, and stories told by the community leaders you partner with.
  4. Data That Will Help You Understand Your Setbacks.“Don’t be afraid to document things that haven’t gone according to plan. Your funders and stakeholders are interested in the good and the bad–the truth.” Indeed, your donors, stakeholders, and volunteers are pretty much the only people who can help a nonprofit overcome failures and setbacks.
  5. Data That Will Allow You to See Your Organization End-to-End.This is a simple matter of collecting data about programs and operations from their beginnings to their endpoints. “Tracking this data is the only way you can truly understand what’s working over the course of time, what you can improve, and how you can expand your good work.”

Use Data Science!

Nonprofit news organization Discover Data Science argues that while 90 percent of all nonprofits collect data, only around half that number properly analyze their data. The reason? Most nonprofits do not employ actual data analysis. Putting data science to work for your nonprofit organization may not be easy to implement. It would likely require hiring or training not just one specialist but a team, which could be costly. However, the benefits could be dramatic–data analytics, predictive analytics, and hacking into the worldwide trove of Big Data might propel your nonprofit to better engage with your donors, streamline your operations, and force your limited revenue to work harder.

Audit Your Data!

You’ve almost certainly heard of data audits, but if you haven’t, chances are you’ll hear lots about them in the years to come. We now live and work in a world that runs on data. Practically every engagement we are involved in (financial, personal, civic, etc.) can be represented by a string of numbers. For nonprofits that might not yet be effectively using their own data, this new outlook on data may mean one of the following: (1) your organization has data that it’s not using (which equates to wasted effort) or (2) your organization needs data that it’s not using (which equates to data gaps and missed opportunities). The data audit is an organization-wide procedure in which all of your data is collected, inventoried, and reflected upon. The result is hopefully a more-disciplined approach to your organization’s data collection and curation, and (hopefully) better collection and use of data going forward.

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