Nonprofit Resources


Getting Started with Data at Your Nonprofit

Some nonprofits may be unsure of how to start using data in their operations and strategic planning. What data should you collect? And how should you best collect, store, analyze, and utilize it?

Using data doesn’t have to be complicated, and the benefits can be significant. With the right systems and processes, data can help nonprofits operate more efficiently, effectively, and strategically.

Forbes gathered input from its Nonprofit Council members on how their organizations use and benefit from data. The benefits they listed fall into several categories:

  • A better understanding of donors, including their giving patterns, behaviors, motivations, and touchpoints
  • Operational efficiencies gained as organizations use data to measure what matters, base decisions on successful strategies, and initiate model changes to improve results
  • The ability to visualize trends and use donor interactions with digital content to inform future messaging and potentially provide a new perspective

These steps can help you start optimizing the use of data in your organization:

  • Evaluate your current systems. Your accounting and CRM systems may have reports that you are not currently using. Contact the platform’s support services if you can’t find what you are looking for.
  • Determine which metrics or key performance indicators (KPIs) are significant for your organization. We recommend that nonprofits:
    • Measure outcomes over activities
    • Focus on three areas: donor engagement, operational efficiency, and population impact
    • Choose two to three metrics for each category, so that maintaining the data doesn’t become cumbersome
    • Include all levels of staff in the discussion about which KPIs are most impactful
  • Research industry best practices and determine the metrics associated with your goals.
  • Create a dashboard.
    • Use your accounting or CRM software for this, if possible. Automated dashboards can save you time and effort.
    • Consider using data visualization software. (Examples include Microsoft Power BI, Tableau, and Google Analytics.)
    • If your systems don’t have this capability and you don’t want to implement new software, you could use a simple system such as a shared document or a document that one individual updates and distributes periodically to other stakeholders.
  • Review this article for additional insight on developing a data strategy for your organization.
  • Establish next steps for reaching your aspirational metrics.

Since 2020, the need for nonprofit services has only continued to increase. Data can provide insights your board, leadership team, and employees can use to help your organization operate efficiently and continue to meet the needs of those you serve.

You do not have to make the shift to utilizing data overnight. The key is to develop a plan and take the first steps. Please contact us with any questions or to discuss how we can assist you.

Authors: Stan Reiff, Partner, and Kelsey Helmick, Executive Compensation Program Consultant

Leave a Comment