If asked, “What’s the one thing your nonprofit can’t live without?” what would you say? Many may jump straight to donations or donor retention, which makes sense, as most organizations cannot exist without a steady stream of financial support. Others may say that the mission and passionate volunteers are the lifeblood of a thriving nonprofit. While all of these answers are correct in their own ways, we can think of one thing that’s just as important as all of the above—data.
Data helps identify and retain donors. Data gathers feedback on your mission and campaigns. Data powers volunteer organization and event planning. Behind every action, every good work, every service, data is there. From IT services for nonprofits to CRMs to a nonprofit technology helpdesk and everything in between, nonprofit data strategy must be all encompassing. Let’s take a deep dive into the importance of data for nonprofits and how organizations can implement a top-notch data strategy.
Data should be a driving force in all of your nonprofit’s plans and decisions due to the many benefits it provides. What are the benefits of good data management? This collection of valuable facts and statistics can provide astonishing insights that will help your organization go above and beyond its mission.
Think of it as a roadmap. A roadmap offers many different possible routes to take, just as you have many options when making decisions for your nonprofit. When you get to a fork in the road, which way do you choose? How do you know it’s the right choice? These decisions are not easy, and managing a nonprofit can become overwhelming as the decision-making starts to pile up. It’s usually best to base your decisions on hard facts rather than feelings or intuitions, and with the right data strategy, it becomes much simpler to determine the best route to your end goals.
At Computers in Ministry (CIM), we begin all of our partnerships by designing a nonprofit technology roadmap, ensuring it aligns with each organization’s unique needs and motivations. Although every roadmap will be different, we find that they all have similar, core characteristics, which we will share with you below.
You may find your nonprofit already has some of these practices in place, which is great! Reviewing this list can certainly inspire ideas for improvement. If your data management system is still rather new, we hope to provide additional guidance to strengthen your nonprofit data solutions.
Data collection for a nonprofit organization can easily become unorganized and unhelpful without a clear definition of what data should be gathered. Some of the more vital data points will include:
Clearly defining the data you need lays a foundation for all other data strategy development steps.
This is one of our CIM team’s favorite parts of the process. Software shopping can be fun, as many developers promise compelling solutions to common nonprofit pain points. But the market for software is vast, and if you don’t know what you’re looking for, it can feel less like finding solutions and more like having an additional stressor to sort through. Fortunately, part of CIM’s organizational and consulting services include a software evaluation and selection, as we are familiar with most available offerings out there. Here are the key questions we ask when evaluating a potential software solution:
With the right software in place, you can truly begin to shape your data strategy.
We’ve all been evaluated at some point in our lives, from annual work reviews to receiving report cards in school. Consider those evaluations you have received for a moment. Many of them were probably based on some sort of rubric or preset measuring system, like getting an A+ in a letter grading system or receiving a 3.9 out of 4 on a work review. The evaluating organization presets these metrics by determining what the best student or employee will look like.
Now, apply these same concepts to your nonprofit. Start by establishing the key performance indicators (KPIs) that will influence the direction of your organization the most. These can include things like:
The software you chose in the previous step should allow you to use your nonprofit organization’s data analytics in a way where you can clearly define how each of these areas are doing. This will also give you valuable insight for changes you can make to achieve better KPI scores and ultimately your mission.
In a recent survey, 84% of respondents said that they care about data privacy and want more control over how their data is collected and used. This is why so many rules and regulations have been enacted to protect user privacy. You may have noticed over the past few years that almost every website you go to now asks you to permit its cookies (the tech kind, not the delicious kind) to track you, which is a direct result of these now widespread regulations.
Certain countries are moving toward more comprehensive data protection laws (like the General Data Protection Regulation in Europe, for example), but the U.S. currently has a mix of many regulations that cover the privacy of every piece of data you can imagine. You might be familiar with the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), which addresses the use and disclosure of an individual’s health information, or the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) Act, which protects against unfair and deceptive business practices.
With so many governances in place, it can be tricky to keep everything straight. Fortunately, our CIM team is quite familiar with all of these rules and regulations, and we enjoy giving our partners the peace of mind that comes with proper data collection and storage.
Has your personal information ever been leaked through a data security breach? It’s unfortunately a common problem we have observed, and it only continues to get more complicated. Maybe you were a part of the 2013 Yahoo data breach, where hackers obtained usernames, birthdates, phone numbers, email addresses, passwords, and security questions/answers for at least 500 million Yahoo accounts. Can you imagine the fallout of such a massive privacy violation?
Security and risk management is vital to the protection of your data, and unfortunately, we generally find that the state of data in the nonprofit sector is not as well-protected as it should be. The last thing you want is to have to notify all your donors that their data has been compromised. It undermines your organization’s reputation and makes your donors have less faith in your competence, potentially leading them to take their money to a more secure cause. No matter which of the many nonprofit service providers you choose, they should offer full security planning, backup capabilities, incident response, disaster recovery, and continuous IT security monitoring.
A high-quality data strategy is useless if your team isn’t in on the plan. After you have sorted through the majority of your data strategy, one of the final steps is to provide education about your system to employees, volunteers, donors, and anyone else involved in your organization. This will include:
With everyone working from the same knowledge base and sharing the same data strategy goals, your nonprofit will be well on its way to a successful mission.
Hopefully we have sufficiently answered the question, “Why should nonprofits collect data?” but if you’re still feeling overwhelmed with all the work that goes into a solid data strategy, we can help! The right data can open doors to new donors, ideas, and opportunities to power your nonprofit and make your surrounding communities a better place.
Our founder created CIM to assist nonprofits with planning and using their resources wisely. This allows our partners to take full advantage of the best available technology tools to fully accomplish their mission. If you’re ready to talk strategic priorities and delve deeper on better managing your nonprofit’s data, contact us today!