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How to Access and Use Big Data in the Nonprofit World

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How to Access and Use Big Data in the Nonprofit World

Nonprofit professionals may feel anxious, as though they’re falling behind for-profits in the race to accumulate and use data in the most effective ways. But in truth, not all data matters when it comes to a nonprofit’s bottom line – securing donors and making an impact on the world. Furthermore, big data in nonprofits may not need the most advanced and expensive tools to get what they need.

“Measurement only matters if it changes the way you act.” – The Nonprofit Hub

Use External Data

Plenty of data already exists – around 2.7 Zettabytes to be exact. For this reason, nonprofits don’t always need an extensive internal system for data analysis. They can use data that has already been collected by a research firm, the government, another nonprofit, or even an ethical third party company. If gaining a better understanding of potential donors, certain demographics or psychographics, or your local community is a goal, tap into data that’s already available.

This strategy allows nonprofits to save time spent on tedious data collection and interpretation, skipping right to extracting the insights. Especially for lower budget organizations with smaller teams (and fewer tech savvy employees), this approach can prove useful time and time again.

Identify Important Metrics

Any organization that has a variety of opportunities for data collection needs to remember one hard truth. That truth is that not all data provides information that’s relevant and useful. For this reason, nonprofits must become skilled in discernment. A few common metrics most nonprofits will want to track are: Average Donation Size, Cost per Donation (Is your cost per donor lower than the average donation?), Attendance and Volunteering rates, and Giving Capacity of each donor. Nonprofitpro recommends also tracking things like Reach and SROI (Social Return on Investment – an innovative metric that reveals the social and financial impact of a campaign).

For strategic decision-making, the question becomes: What metrics can tell us if we’re actually following through on our mission and values? All nonprofits are running programs or projects of some kind. They’re either delivering on what they promise or they’re falling short. Any metrics that can provide direct evidence into the success of your programs and services are incredibly valuable. With these metrics delivering real-time insights, you can pivot and change how programs are operating to achieve better results. This is how becoming a data-driven organization works.

Invest in the Right Tools

The emphasis on this step is the “right” tools. It’s tempting to assume that a new, popular tool will solve all your problems and facilitate a great outcome. But sometimes new technology only ends up complicating things. That’s especially the case when your whole team needs to learn and engage with it regularly. For this reason, nonprofit leaders need to get crystal clear about a) their goals, and b) gaps in functioning. Having clear objectives helps you avoid straying into investments that won’t really make an impact. Observing areas where the organization isn’t running smoothly provides much-needed insight into what is truly needed. Once you’re clear on these, identifying the right tools – like donor management software, CRM platforms, or digital resource centers for donors – is much easier.

Not every nonprofit needs the most advanced technology – just the ability to leverage that technology for the organization’s specific goals. A survey by Microsoft revealed that the vast majority of donors (86%) need to see the impact of their donation. Then, an important question comes. What tools allow us to tell the story of the change we’re creating in a clearer format? Are there impactful elements of your story you are not telling? What aspects might engage new donors?

Weaving data into storytelling is one of the most pivotal ways to bring your audience along for the ride. Guidestar encourages the use of human stories to drive home the ‘how’ and ‘why’ behind a nonprofit’s activities.

By harnessing data that generates reliable insights, organizations can create an iterative process for better results. Looking to increase recurring donations with an easy-to-use platform? Learn more about our online giving software.

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