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ASU Lodestar Center Blog

The nonprofit data revolution is here

data for nonprofits

In the ever-evolving landscape of nonprofit organizations, the role of leadership in navigating the data landscape cannot be overstated. As nonprofits strive to address societal challenges and drive positive change, effective operations, and strategic decision-making are critical. The power of data, particularly in Customer Relationship Management (CRM) systems, emerges as a cornerstone for success. Recent research showcases the challenges and opportunities nonprofits face in data management, highlighting the transformative impact of effective leadership and offering recommendations for nonprofit leaders to harness the full potential of data.

The paradigm shift in the nonprofit sector towards recognizing data as a fundamental asset is evident. CRM systems have become instrumental in empowering organizations to collect, analyze, and utilize data effectively, marking a significant departure from traditional methods. However, this transition poses challenges, ranging from inconsistent data standards to resource constraints.

Leadership sets the tone

In nonprofits where a well-established data culture is absent, leadership plays a pivotal role in realigning the organization's core values. Rather than viewing the knowledge gap as an impediment, leaders should seize it as an opportunity to bridge the divide and recognize the transformative potential of data in advancing the organization's mission. Leaders can champion data initiatives in critical areas such as growth, laying the groundwork for ongoing exploration of future data projects.

Building data capacity

Effective data tracking systems, like CRM software, represent a necessary investment for nonprofits to establish data tracking capabilities they might otherwise lack. While inputting data can be straightforward, organizations planning for growth find tremendous value in acquiring integrated data systems. These systems promote collaboration among team members and boost the organization's capacity to utilize pre-built applications within the CRM, automating processes and monitoring growth.

Investing in comprehensive data tracking systems might be cost-prohibitive for emerging nonprofits. However, alternative approaches exist to build data capacity. Initiating a single data project and exploring collaborative partnerships with other organizations can strengthen grant applications and research initiatives. Nonprofits can also explore using free CRMs designed for nonprofits, such as GreenRope, which offers accessible data systems as part of its philanthropic program.

Establishing mission-focused KPIs

To lead a nonprofit toward data-driven success, it is essential to identify and establish Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) that directly align with the organization's mission. These KPIs should be specific, measurable, and relevant, providing a clear roadmap for the entire team. Creating benchmarks is an effective way to measure progress and track the achievement of organizational goals.

Setting clear benchmarks and time-bound goals ensures accountability and motivates the team. Leadership plays a critical role in creating a data-driven culture within the nonprofit. Encouraging employees by emphasizing the importance of data and its role in achieving the organization's mission is crucial. Recognizing and celebrating achievements based on data-driven results reinforces the value of data in decision-making.

Encouraging learning through data

Nonprofit leadership is encouraged to create a vision of change management through data. Staff understanding how to gather, enter, and analyze data independently establishes a sense of empowerment. The continuous improvement cycle in data tracking involves planning, execution, self-assessment, and adjusting actions. From the outcome perspective, nonprofits must integrate past experiences into established organizational patterns influencing actions.

Transparency and impact

To leverage the power of data effectively, nonprofit organizations should put data to use strategically. Transparency, both within the organization and with external stakeholders, is crucial. Establishing relationships between data and program-related information paints an honest story about wins and losses that is easy to decipher. Reports generated from this data must be clear, understandable, and meaningful to internal and external audiences.

Immersive reports, including a theory of change from start to end and qualitative data, create a comprehensive narrative. Data should not exist in isolation; it should be intertwined with the organization's programs and services, enabling better decision-making. These reports serve as vital tools for communication, ensuring that everyone involved can grasp the significance of the data and its impact on the organization's mission.

Navigating the future

Nonprofit leaders hold the key to navigating the data landscape and steering toward a future of meaningful impact. Through strategic planning, effective leadership, and a commitment to transparency, nonprofits can harness the full potential of data. The challenges posed by inconsistent data standards and resource constraints are opportunities for leaders to spearhead transformative change. As the sector continues to evolve, integrating data-driven practices will play an instrumental role in driving positive change and fulfilling the impactful missions of nonprofit organizations. Nonprofit leaders are not just data stewards; they are architects of a data-driven future, shaping the narrative of social change through strategic decision-making and transparent communication.

Corina Alegria is a 2023 graduate of the Master of Nonprofit Leadership and Management program at Arizona State University. She holds a degree in Psychology from Stephen F. Austin State University. Currently residing in Houston, Texas, Corina is a valued team member in the Community Partnerships Department of the Houston Independent School District (HISD). As one of the largest and most diverse school districts in the nation, HISD relies on the Community Partnerships Department to act as a vital bridge between corporate entities and community organizations, facilitating collaboration across over 300 schools in the Houston area. In her free time she enjoys creating memories with her husband and daughter.

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Get the data download about Arizona's nonprofits with the Scope of the Sector

The Scope of the Arizona Nonprofit Sector is an interactive tool for understanding and researching nonprofit organizations, their workers, and the nonprofit sector’s contribution to the Arizona economy. Find breakdowns for everything from wages, to education levels, and types of organizations in the state. 

Corina Algeria


ASU Lodestar Center Blog