Nonprofit data management can feel daunting, especially if your organization is small and doesn’t have anyone with nonprofit database management experience on staff. Many small nonprofit leaders think to themselves:
“I’m succeeding at some level and I can see the organization’s impact – why is nonprofit data management even important? Why should I start using software for the database and reporting if something’s already working?”
Often, organizations start their data collection efforts using the most readily available tools – notebooks, spreadsheets, and human memory. While those tools can work for some needs, the lack of efficiency and limited ability to analyze and communicate what that data is telling you is a big problem.
Funders Want Numbers
Perhaps the most obvious answer to the above two questions is that your funders want to see a laundry list of statistics as part of your impact and results. Grants from major foundations and federal agencies often have explicit requirements, not only for the kinds of information you need to collect, but also the type of data management system you use. The easiest way to make sure that you follow those requirements is to utilize software that can display your data with the click of a button.
But, it’s not just about satisfying administrative requirements. Funders also care about data because it helps them define and identify the social return on their investment. Data gives funders the ability to zoom in to see what is working on the ground and then zoom out to see how and why change is happening over time.
Nonprofit data management software, like Apricot Essentials, gives you the tools you need to communicate detailed information to your funders. It also gives you a baseline for analyzing, sharing, and testing best practices. Over time, that ability will help you maximize the impact of funding dollars (and increase your ability to deliver more mission).
Measurement Is More Than Counting
It’s easy to get caught up in the “capture as much data as you can” mindset. Data management starts by knowing what questions you want to answer and, more importantly, recognizing that there are probably things you don’t even know that you don’t know. Implementing strong nonprofit database software frees up manpower to collect qualitative data (i.e. stories) that can’t be captured in numbers. Having robust data analysis tools also helps you identify stories you didn’t know were there.
Together, numbers and personal accounts allow you to tell a detailed story about what you’re doing and why it is or isn’t working. The data can validate and add clarity and detail to your instincts and conventional practices. In turn, stories can help you to explore all that stuff you don’t know you don’t know, identify new questions, and refine metrics and outcomes evidence.
Measure, Then Act
Data only matters if it translates into action. That’s why good nonprofit database management processes include time to analyze data and rethink programs in response to data driven insights. It’s also why it’s so important to not just measure success, but also to track and measure failure.
One of the biggest benefits of implementing nonprofit database software is that it can dramatically shorten the time it takes to collect and analyze data. More than just an improvement in process efficiency, it shortens the amount of time programs are operating under faulty assumptions or wasting resources on ineffective interventions. Not only does that allow your organization to find and fix problems sooner, but it also increases the number of people who can benefit from that learning.
To learn more about how implementing Apricot Essentials into your organization, register for our deminar series today!