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ASU Lodestar Center Blog

Using data and analytics to drive nonprofit decision making and impact

data decision making

Numbers, numbers, numbers… If you’re anything less than a mathematician or accountant, they may not be your favorite, but they should play an integral role in the decision-making and impact of your organization. For prospective donors, volunteers and employees, numbers and data can provide the groundwork that stabilizes an organization’s mission and vision. It not only demonstrates what the organization has already accomplished but also establishes a trend for all the places it could go in the future. To effectively lead or participate in nonprofit work, data must be a major factor in every decision. 

How to track data 

While an organization’s mission should be its topmost priority, letting data tracking fall to the wayside in pursuit of a mission statement can harm a nonprofit in the long term. To maintain these records, data tracking should be built into everyday processes. According to Business News Daily, businesses typically collect data in three primary ways:

  1. Directly asking
  2. Indirectly tracking
  3. Utilizing external data sources

A combination of each method is required to form a holistic approach to data recording. Consider building survey questions directly into event registrations, volunteer sign-ups, or mailing list registrations to begin collecting data about who the organization is reaching. If an organization has a webpage, web tracking can supply further information, such as measuring the success of community outreach efforts. External data sources such as national survey data can also be used to prioritize different issues in an organization’s day-to-day operations. 

Applications for collected data are as limitless as methods of collecting the data itself. To better your organization’s strategic decision-making and impact, examine these three strategies:

  1. Set data-informed goals

    One common use of data is in setting strategic goals. Proponents of the concept of “SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, Time-based) goals” argue that data should play a pivotal role in goal-setting for business purposes. For example, SMART goals contain Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) which are often tracked through data. These indicators are the methods through which organizations can measure their success or failure in reaching goals. By creating goals that are statistically measurable, nonprofits are able to better track progress and adjust goal-reaching strategies accordingly.

  2. Use data to build relationships

    While data may be the last thing you think of when it comes to connecting with others, it can serve a vital role in fostering these connections. For example, Double the Donation writes about the concept of “donor data”— “insight into who your donors are.” By storing useful information about donors such as their preferred communication channels, donation history, events attended, and more, nonprofits can understand the issues donors care about when supporting the organization. This information can then be used to meaningfully demonstrate the organization’s impact on issues of the donor’s preference as well as provide more opportunities for the donor to support the organization’s mission. Similar steps can be applied to clients, employees and volunteers optimizing an organization’s relationship-building processes. 

  3. Inform audiences through data

    For a nonprofit to pursue its mission statement, it must first demonstrate that its mission is worth pursuing. Data can be a factor in demonstrating the prevalence of an issue, attracting supporters, donors and volunteers who are invested in the stakes of a nonprofit’s mission. Consider sharing statistics with audiences that demonstrate the need for a solution, such as “women earned 17% less than men in 2023” for an organization providing career development services for women or “1 in 5 U.S. adults experience mental illness each year” for an organization providing mental health resources. Statistics like these demonstrate a need that a nonprofit can fill, convincing others of the importance of its work and incentivizing long-term support.

Building the internal structures to record data and apply it is a choice that is better made sooner rather than later. A data-informed framework can provide a decision-making basis for operations in your organization and can be continually expanded as the organization grows.

Image by Lillian Finley

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The eight-week Social Impact Measurement Certificate is designed for individuals who want to lead their organization’s efforts in evaluating or tracking the performance of their programs. This certificate is designed to equip program managers and staff, evaluation specialists, development officers, operations managers and marketing professionals with everything they need to evaluate and communicate their program impact.

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ASU Lodestar Center Blog