Data are one of your nonprofit’s most valuable resources. Learning how to leverage mission impact data for your organization’s benefit is a useful strategy for increasing long-term success. Sheri Chaney Jones, the CEO and founder of SureImpact, was joined by Erin Rodriguez of RootCause, Brian Lacy of NPOInfo, and Chris Boyette of AlumniFinder for NXUnite’s “Demystifying Data: Best Practices for Data Management and Analysis” panel. The panelists shared a number of crucial insights on the topic.
Start with the end in mind
Before you start gathering or analyzing your mission impact data, make sure you have a clear understanding of what you want to get out of your data and how to best approach it given your goals. As Sheri Chaney Jones stated, “One of the best practices that I always recommend nonprofits start with is this really simple exercise — identifying why the organization does what it does. How are you changing lives and circumstances for those beneficiaries who receive your services? Once you do that, then you can drill down into what you should be measuring to prove that you’re making those changes.” Taking the time to do this exercise at the outset of your data gathering and analysis process will increase the efficiency and efficacy of the project and save your organization precious time in the long run. If your organization could use more guidance on how to improve your impact using data, SureImpact’s social impact solutions are a good place to start.
Accuracy and consistency are essential
Whether your organization is utilizing mission impact data or fundraising data, some best practices apply across the board. Having the basics down during data collection and entry builds a solid foundation for your entire project. In today’s world, where there are vast amounts of data to manage, ensuring your data is accurate from the beginning takes on a whole new level of importance. Small, repetitive inconsistencies can lead to difficulty making an accurate analysis later. Chris Boyette emphasized that it’s essential to “Have a set procedure, process, and guideline for anyone who is entering data.” Ensuring that your data processes are clearly understood by all involved can go a long way in saving headaches down the road.
Avoid analysis paralysis
While it’s important to be able to adapt throughout the data gathering and analysis process, outlining a clear vision for the project will ultimately save you energy. You don’t want to be left wondering what to do with the information you’ve gathered. Since there is so much information you could possibly use, be sure you know how the data you’re gathering is going to specifically be of use to you. As Sheri advised, “Before you even start to ask your staff to track something or go pay someone to gather that data for you, ask yourself, ‘How will this help us tell our story?’ If you don’t know how you’re going to put it into a campaign or into a grant or talk to a potential donor about it, then maybe you don’t need to collect it. The second question you need to ask is ‘will we be able to make our programs better because of this information we’re getting?’”
Utilizing data to further your organization’s goals doesn’t have to be intimidating. Keeping these insights in mind will help you make the most out of your organization’s data by having a good grasp on how to approach the process from the beginning. As you proceed with furthering your nonprofit’s mission, take full advantage of the educational resources — such as expert nonprofit podcasts — at your disposal. You don’t have to do this alone. Overall, when you’re dealing with impact data, remember to implement consistent data collection practices from the start and make sure you understand how the data you gather is going to help increase your organization’s impact.