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Nonprofit Transparency: Using Data to Unlock Your Narrative

The following is guest post by , executive chairman and founder of Social Solutions.

Steve Steve Butz

The internet allows the whole world to tell their story and share their experiences. This information explosion has provided nonprofits with new opportunities to engage their audience through variety of channels and tools.

So how can your organization join the conversation? Amidst the sea of information that surrounds your audience, creating a ripple in these discussions can seem overwhelming or even impossible. Fortunately, there is a simple solution to overcoming this problem and almost every organization has access to it.

Behind the computer cases and servers scattered throughout your organization’s office sits data that can illuminate the impact your organization makes. It is this data that provides real credence to your organization’s story, building trust by its presence and offering your something valuable that volunteers and donors want to hear.

Data-driven storytelling can offer the most compelling types of plot and they can help pave the way for a higher level of transparency than nonprofits have been able to attain previously.

The Many Uses of Your Nonprofits Data

EffectivenessOther than filling out a 990 every year, there are few oversight procedures in place that require nonprofits to collect or share any particular types of data. But a lack of requirements does not mean that this is something organizations should ignore. Savvy nonprofit leaders are starting to recognize the value of data, both internally and externally.

Many nonprofit leaders today are looking at how their organizations track data and how they can use that information to improve outcomes. Furthermore, they’re focusing on how sharing that information can result in continuous improvements and increased levels of trust.

How to Use Data to Increase Trust

So, assuming your organization already has a process for collecting data, how can you then make the best use of that information? Here are some simple ways to incorporate data more into your decision-making processes and how to share those decisions with stakeholders.

  1. Think about outcomes – With better tools for collecting and analyzing data at our fingertips, nonprofits are able to make more informed choices. But there has to be some standard on which to base these choices. An outcomes-based approach can offer organizations a clear path to good decisions. And if you’re able to match your efforts to fulfillment of those outcomes, then that’s a success story worth listening to.
  2. Know the standards – Although there are no guidelines, there are third-party organizations out there which are doing a good job at creating standards for nonprofit accountability, While GuideStar is still the gold standard, sites like Charity Navigator have also developed standards against which they measure all organizations, and your organization should be familiar with these organizations’ data requirements and, ideally, be pre-emptively compliant.
  3. Tell a clear story – Guided by your mission statement and your specific and measurable outcomes-based goals, your organization can use data to clearly show its progress towards those goals, building trust and transparency with each step. Financial reporting, formerly the only type of data that organizations were divulging, is now only a stepping stone to a full 360 degree view of your organizations actions, efforts and decisions, supported, of course, by your data.

In a time when suspicion and judgment run rampant, it is still possible for trust to exist. When organizations make decisions based on clear principles and accurate data, there is no obstacle to progress or transparency. It makes the art of storytelling much easier and it is clearly the future of fundraising.

Steve Butz is the Executive Chairman and Founder of Social Solutions. Steve founded Social Solutions in July of 2000, with partners Vince Griffith and Adrian Bordone.

Topics: Nonprofit Leadership and Practice