Here are 8 things your charity can start putting into place now to make better use of data to report on, measure and grow your impact.
Data is a powerful tool for charities and non-profits: it can help campaigns become more successful, it can ensure projects have more impact, and it can be used to make a strong case to funders for new services and initiatives. According to the 2019 Charity Digital Skills Report, 59% of charities want to make more effective use of data and 48% wish to use it to improve service delivery. To get the full range of benefits that data can offer, organisations need to become data-driven. What does this mean? At the most basic level, a data-driven charity or non-profit uses data and information derived from that data – rather than anecdotal evidence, personal experience, or gut feeling – to guide its activities and future path. Here are some top tips to help transition to a data-driven approach:
Perhaps the most important step that any organisation can take is establishing the idea that everything it does should result from decisions made on the back of digital evidence rather than hunches or existing practices. That will often involve asking questions like "why are we doing this?", "how do we know there is a need for this?", or "how do we know if this is working?"
Once a data-driven culture begins to become established, it should quickly become evident which questions need asking. These may relate to outcomes, staff and volunteer performance, the need for new initiatives, the relative effectiveness of different fundraising approaches, or many other things.
Once you know what questions you need to ask, you can begin to understand what data you need to answer them. Typical data that many charities need include:
This sounds easy, but the reality is very different. That’s because many organisations store data on an ad-hoc basis, with different departments or individuals storing data relating to their tasks using different software packages, in different digital repositories, and in different digital formats. In many cases, organisations will need to perform a data audit which not only establishes what data is stored where, but also examines the quality, age, and accuracy of data to provide an indication of how useful the data really is for driving decision making.
This may involve combining data from different existing internal sources, starting to store internally generated data which is currently being discarded, or acquiring data from external digital sources such as the many open datasets which are available free of charge to charities.
Data by itself is of little use: it’s only when it can be analysed, visualised, and correlated with other data that actionable information and insights can be drawn from it. To be effective, a data analytics system should:
No data-driven approach will succeed unless you have staff with the knowledge to determine the data you need, and the skills to use a data analytics system and glean useful information from it. That means you may need to recruit a data specialist or provide training to some or all of your staff.
Advanced data-driven approaches may involve machine learning, data warehousing, and other advanced IT projects. Help is available from many sources such as DataKind UK - a UK charity that helps charities, and non-profits with data analytics initiatives – which offers free monthly Office Hours sessions answering charities’ questions.