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Most nonprofits today are dealing with an abundance of data. And much of it is disorganized across different systems. That leaves many organizations feeling like a middle-school kid with an overstuffed bookbag, with papers jammed in here and falling out there in complete disarray.

Sound like your organization? Trust us, you’re not alone.

Less than 0.5% of all data is ever analyzed and used. That’s a fascinating number—and a telling one. It shows us that, while most organizations (both business and nonprofit) are collecting some form of data, most of them don’t really know what to do with it.  

With the high volume of data we’re seeing today, the disorganization of that data, and the unfortunate fact that none of this data comes with an instruction manual, it’s easy to see why nonprofits feel so overwhelmed. Staring at those messy piles of data can be incredibly daunting.

The good news is, even if you feel like you’re drowning in data, there is a solution. It all starts with changing they way you approach data. Instead of thinking data first, think goals first. Focus on what you want to achieve, then think about how data can help you get there.

5 Steps to Put Data to Work for Your Nonprofit Today

Take these five steps to turn your business objectives into actionable data:

  1. Define your strategic goal.

What is your one big goal at the present moment? For most, the strategic goal is the 3-5 year plan that your organization has set out to achieve. These are often huge and lofty, but can sometimes be short and focused.

Examples: (big and lofty) Increase the footprint of your organization in new markets on the East coast; (short-term) Increase the revenue from existing donors by a certain amount over the next quarter.

  1. Identify your primary metrics.

Hone in on the data you will look at to clearly measure success at achieving your strategic goal. Typically, goals fall into one of four different buckets (Revenue, Donors, Mission, or Brand) with the key metrics determined by that bucket.

Example: If the goal is to upgrade existing donors, then lifetime value should be the key metric. You’re trying to answer the question: Are your donors increasing in their value to the organization?  

  1. Determine your baselines.

Go back 1-3 years to establish performance baselines related to your primary metrics. Once you have your baselines identified, apply industry benchmarks to provide context for where your organization is in relation to other similar organizations within your sector.

Example: If you’re looking at lifetime value as a primary metric, you want a strong sense of where your average donor lifetime value is today and where organizations similar to yours stand with that same metric.

  1. Measure your progress.

Set some short-term goals that will help ensure you are progressing in the right direction to meet your strategic goal. Determine how often you will report on your metrics and who in your organization needs to see them.

Example: Your short-term goal might be to upgrade a specific number of donors every two weeks to reach your quarterly goal.

  1. Optimize your results.

What are you learning from your metrics and reporting: Are you meeting your goals? If yes, should you be pushing for more? If no, do you have a handle on why? Are you measuring the wrong thing? Find ways to continually improve and seed what you have learned back into the process. Continuous learning is crucial!

If You Find the Data Overwhelming, Narrow Your Focus.

It’s more than likely you will run into a few bumps along the road of your data-driven journey. The key is to persevere. If the idea of working with your IT team or trying to figure out how to track data that you either don’t have or is messy in your existing system seems daunting, step back and focus in on what is doable.

Try not to get overwhelmed by what will take a long time to execute or what involves a lot of people to get done, and try to focus on a part of your goal or the data that’s within your reach. Always persevere by either adjusting your goals or focusing in on data that’s available. Always continue to move forward.

Get more in-depth info on each step of this process. Download “The Field Guide for Data-Driven Fundraising” now.