Whether you are attending conferences, reading industry articles, or simply discussing ideas with other non-profit organizations, the term you likely cannot escape is “data.” Every nonprofit hears from funders and consultants alike that you must collect and communicate a wide variety of metrics in order to improve your programs and increase your fundraising.
In a recent Candid article, Chantal Forster, Executive Director of the Technology Association of Grantmakers discussed the importance of collecting data with the specific goal of learning how to better serve individuals and families. Rather than becoming more competitive, Forster observed that the greater opportunity is for social-good organizations to become more collaborative. But you may ask yourself what types of data you are supposed to collect? Why is it so important? And what do you even do with the information? Let’s start by talking about the types of data you should collect.
Types of Metrics
Though specific metrics depend on your programs and services, there are several broad categories of data that apply to most nonprofits.
User data is information specific to the individuals enrolled in your services. These indicators include both demographic information, such as age, gender, or race, and characteristics such as employment status, chronic health conditions, or housing situation. In other words, user data is how you understand who enrolls in your programs and why they need your services.
Output Output metrics track individual program details. How many meals did you serve? How many hours did your team volunteer? How much money did you spend providing stable housing for families? These are the metrics that tell you where your time and resources are being spent.
Engagement Engagement data shows you how individual clients are using your services. What are your program participation rates? How long do individuals stay enrolled? How many individuals return for more services?
Feedback Feedback metrics, sometimes called quality metrics, show you what you are doing well and where program participants feel you need to improve.
Impact Though all the other metric categories serve important roles, the most critical category is Impact Data. These indicators demonstrate how your programs and services are creating positive impact in the lives of your program participants.
Learning, Not Just Collecting
Now you know what metrics you should collect, let’s take it a step further and discuss the “why.” Woodrow Rosenbaum, Chief Data Officer of GivingTuesday, stated that “It remains too common for organizations, including funders, to approach their data strategies from the perspective of ‘what can we collect?’” Collecting information as an item on a checklist adds unnecessary burdens to already overwhelmed team members and cannot unlock the potential of using data as an asset. According to Mr. Rosenbaum, the answer is to approach data collection with the question, “What can we learn?”
What you can and must learn from data depends on the mission of your nonprofit. The same goals that dictate your programs and services should guide your data collection strategies. Develop questions that address the needs of your individuals and families in your community, and then track indicators that will help you answer those questions.
What About Data Experts?
Though some organizations have the resources to hire dedicated data analysts, gone are the days when only the specialists interact with data. According to the Social Policy Institute at the Washington University in St. Louis, “Most people in a social sector organization interact with data. Even those who have little or no experience analyzing data can have a significant role to play in thinking strategically about leveraging it to increase impact.”
Creating an environment where only the specialists interact with data prevents other team members from effectively doing their jobs. Organizations become data-driven when the entire team, starting with leadership, develops the ability to collect, manage, evaluate, and apply data to solve challenges.
Social-Good Sector Cooperation
The social-good sector is at its best when it is collaborative instead of competitive. Though you may take different approaches and focus on different needs, social-good organizations share the common goal of creating positive impact for individuals and communities. Collecting and sharing data allows you to build on your common knowledge and increase your collective impact.
SureImpact is specifically designed to provide the data collection and impact reporting infrastructure that connects all members of the social-good ecosystem with real-time data, while also meeting the unique data-collection and reporting needs of each organization. SureImpact’s collaborative data model is designed to help individual providers to manage, measure, and communicate their social impact while also giving backbone organizations and funders the aggregate real-time insights that demonstrate what types of interventions are most beneficial to solve network-wide social problems and increase their social return on investment.
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