With the ever-increasing emphasis on data, its collection, and its many applications, many nonprofits are wondering where they can find useful data sets without spending a fortune. Nonprofits often fall under the misconception that Big Data has to cost Big Bucks for expensive database subscriptions or hiring data analysts.
Luckily, however, data is everywhere—and it doesn’t have to cost a thing. Your organization is full of useful information that you can collect on your own, or with the help of a data expert. That collected information can help create new programs, impact changes to your current ones, and highlight how well your organization is doing.
Data can also help you explain why your nonprofit’s work is essential, and can encourage donors and volunteers to enlist. But instead of spending an arm and a leg to mine obscure sets of data, why not focus on your nonprofit’s daily operations?
Mining Your Daily Operations
For some of us, translating everyday work into numbers and figures is a bit difficult. Harder still is trying to figure out which work translates into useful information. That’s why we’ve compiled this list of daily activities, tools, and processes that can be mined and translated into data for organizational use.
Take a peek at the list and see which of these areas you can analyze in your nonprofit; you might just find that you’ve got a goldmine of data sitting at your fingertips!
1. Donor Data
What’s more exciting than seeing donor funds roll in? But instead of simply using the money donors give your organization, why not get a little bit of information from them, as well?
If you don’t have a system for mining donor data, you can start with:
- Who are your donors?
- Where do they come from?
- How old are they?
- Are they individuals, groups, corporations, etc?
- Was the donation a result of:
- Marketing efforts?
- Social media?
- Email campaigns?
- Other efforts?
- How was the donation paid?
- Credit card via your website
- Fundraising event
- Other method
If you have a system in place for collecting donor data, evaluate the information you’ve got in your system. To increase donations, or possibly retarget your donor demographic, ask the data:
- How can we get this donor to donate again?
- Which efforts seem to have resulted in this donation?
- Are we making it easy enough for people to donate?
- Is this donor demographic one we want to target more? Or less?
From there, you can inform policies and marketing that affect the sort of donors your organization seeks. If you’re not getting the donations you’d like for your programs, this donor data will also highlight areas where you can improve.
2. Tools and Systems
When you’re contemplating where to start gathering data, simply take a look around. Performing a basic “audit” of your organization’s office or surroundings can shed new light on the things you’ve taken for granted. First and foremost, look at the tools that you use to do your nonprofit’s work.
You’re probably going to have a few things that automate, process, report, and generally make your life easier. These could include (but aren’t limited to):
- Volunteer hour tracking software
- Automated email programs
- Computers or tablets
- Website analytics
- Social media metrics
Also consider the “field work” your organization does. Some nonprofits use tools and systems for their program recipients, such as pedometers to improve health in low-income communities or new laptop software for students who are blind. These are just a few examples; your nonprofit will have tools specific to it, so take a good look around!
Once you’ve identified the tools that allow your nonprofit to do the work, ask the data questions like:
- Is the money spent on this tool providing more than its value to the organization?
- Are our volunteers tracking their hours properly?
- What can we do to increase volunteer hours?
- Are the results of their efforts improving our fundraising/outcomes/etc.?
- What emails/calls/efforts are most popular with our donors?
- Is there something that we can cut to save money?
- Are we happy with our website/social media/email reports?
- What seems to be working?
- How can we continue to improve here?
Keep in mind that these are just a few examples; the questions you ask your data will vary as widely as the tools you use!
While it’s easy to underestimate something you use every day, odds are there is going to be a lot of information you can pull when you get creative. Especially consider the tools or systems you’ve put in place to make your job easier—those are the ones that are putting in the most work (and hold the most information)!
3. Feedback and Results
You know you’re making a difference, right? But do the numbers back you up? While it can be hard to quantify the impact that you feel your organization has on the group, community, or population you are trying to help, data tells no lies.
Evaluating the actual outcome of your organization’s inputs is one of the areas that can be most impactful, but it can also require a lot of data-digging. To make it easy on your bottom line, get a little creative and use low-cost solutions to mine your feedback loop. Consider evaluating:
- Volunteer impact. This could involve pulling data from:
- Hours volunteered (can be used to win more grants)
- Recipient surveys (how people in your programs say volunteers have helped)
- Volunteer surveys (how volunteers feel they are impacting the program)
- Funds raised as a result of volunteer campaigns
- Social media/website reach from volunteer help
- Events and fundraising. Consider which events and campaigns:
- Raise the most money
- Cost your organization more time/money/effort than funds raised
- Increase media or online coverage
- Improve public awareness for your cause
- Reported feedback from your programs. Ask the people who directly benefit from your organization’s work:
- What they’re getting from your program
- If a new program you want to institute would benefit them
- What quantifiable changes they’ve benefited from
- What changes/additions they’d like to see
There are endless additional questions, feedback, and reports you can seek; these are just a few examples to get you started. The idea, however, is to see how people are being directly affected by your organization’s efforts.
If nobody knows about the work you do, or the people you’re trying to help aren’t noticing changes, it’s time to rethink your approach. If you’re getting great feedback, you can dig deeper into the data and see which areas are worth more of your time, money, and energy. Remember, better input equals even better outcome!
4. Partner Organization Data
The real beauty of data is that it is more powerful when it is shared. While some proprietary data is expected (exact donor data, payroll, program recipients, etc.), sharing public data sets can impact the world in a big way. It can also prove to be a valuable asset to your organization.
If you have partner organizations or have contacts with other nonprofits, reach out and ask if they have useful data on:
- A specific demographic/population you want to target
- The impact their program is having
- Which marketing campaigns have been most useful for them
- Statistics or values that can encourage donors to engage
Other organizations may also work in tandem with yours to do more in-depth mining or analysis of data. That way, you can work as a group to encourage change on a larger scale. You never know; asking for information may make a huge difference for the people or place you most want to help!
Want Answers to Your Questions? Ask the Data
Data scientists will tell you that it’s about more than just numbers—data tells your nonprofit’s story. It shows how your volunteers are making a difference, where you have room for improvement, and how many people are affected by your work. It also highlights information you can share with your donors, your board of trustees, or as simple encouragement to your team for a job well done.
All you have to do is know which questions you want answered. Want to recruit more volunteers? Wondering what gets people to donate? Not sure those big events are worth the time? Ask your questions and look at the data—it will always give you an answer.
And then, when it comes time to share your data, consider data visualization. Infographics are powerful tools that you can use for internal, public, and inter-organizational use. No more boring spreadsheets or droning presentations—just clear visuals, dynamic statistics, and information that can be widely shared to promote impact. Tools like Easel.ly can make data visualization simple and affordable; all you have to do is find the data!The preceding is a guest post by Latasha Doyle, blog editor at Easel.ly, where she discusses all things “infographic.” If you are looking for more information on creating infographics, you can also check out Easel.ly’s free ebook, “Infographic Crash Course.”