Nonprofits today have more data at their fingertips than perhaps at any other time in history. But if this data remains hidden among reams of reports, it’s useless. Data that is difficult to read, interpret, or use offers no benefit to anyone.
You can change that by helping your nonprofit transition into a data-driven organization. True data-based decision making can be challenging to implement and may take years as you add more data-focused people to the staff, update technology, and provide training to everyone on how to use data (more on that later). But it is worth it in the long run.
Why Become a Data-Driven Organization?
Data-driven organizations can provide stakeholders with facts to substantiate their claims. They can offer donors, granting organizations, and others the proof through verifiable data of program efficacy and responsible stewardship of funds.
Perhaps more importantly, using data, these nonprofits can make better decisions on which programs to fund and where to put their efforts. Instead of guesswork, data driven organizations look at the facts to support their choices. They can better fulfill their mission when they see the facts that support their choices.
Steps to Becoming a Data-Driven Organization
As you shift your organization’s focus toward using data to make decisions, you may need to take several steps to help the transition.
- Provide staff with the tools they need.
Your current software may be unable to produce or analyze the data available. You may need to update or upgrade software. You may need to add business intelligence software, grant reporting software, and true fund accounting. A thorough assessment of the systems used to collect, support, and share data is necessary before choosing new software. But, in order to use data, staff must be able to collect it and access it easily, and that calls for the right software.
- Offer training and support.
Few people are trained in the use of data, and fewer still know how to analyze data. You may wish to find a consultant to work with your team to help them learn how to access, analyze, and report on data.
- Share data.
Another important step is to ensure all data from your organization can be shared easily and quickly. Silos may exist now that must be breached in order to ensure data is shared among all departments. A data-driven organization is no place for “data misers” who hoard their information. Make it an organization-wide expectation that data should be shared, within reason.
- Make data gathering a priority.
Ask key questions and add data gathering to all projects where it makes sense to do so. Ensure new initiatives get the green light only if there is enough data to support their launch. Make sure your teams know you expect efficacy data, retention data, and other key data to support projects and goals.
The Marriage of Data and Storytelling: A Match Made in Heaven
Data alone rarely sticks in people’s minds. Data, when combined with stories, does. Using storytelling techniques and having a hero, a villain, a wise guide, a quest, and other traditional story points, underscored with data to support the story, can make data come alive for your audience.
For example, a food bank may know that hunger affects 5% of their local community. What does 5% mean? What does it look like?
Telling a story about a hardworking single parent of four who is juggling two jobs to pay the rent and needs a weekly grocery supplement from the food bank makes that 5% statistic come alive. Now, it’s clear how donations to the food bank are used and who that 5% represents.
Ready for a Data-Driven Approach?
If you’re ready to focus more on data but you aren’t sure where to start, we can help. Welter Consulting bridges people and technology together for effective solutions for nonprofit organizations. We offer software and services that can help you with your accounting needs. Please contact Welter Consulting at 206-605-3113 for more information.