Collecting, tracking, measuring, and managing your nonprofit’s data are important ways to understand and communicate the incredible work your organization does for your community. This information provides insight into the people you’re helping, how your services impact them, and where there are opportunities for improvement. Plus, with a handle on your data, you are better equipped to make educated and strategic decisions about the future of your programs and organization. However, this may sound easier said than done.
That’s why we created the Nonprofit Data Maturity Model, a set of standards and stages designed to help organizations identify their level of data sophistication and map their journey to becoming more data-driven. In previous posts, we took a more in-depth look into the four stages of the Nonprofit Data Maturity Model: Committed, Counting Outputs, Measuring Outcomes, and Managing Outcomes. You can go back and review Stages 1 & 2 and Stages 3 & 4.
Now that you are familiar with the stages of the Nonprofit Data Maturity Model, it’s time to better understand how your organization can solve pain points and ascend to the next stage in your data journey. While it won’t happen instantaneously, you can become more data-driven over time with the right tools, dedication, leadership commitment, and staff buy-in. Keep reading our recommendations below to discover how your organization can go from fundamental and reactive to high-performing and data agile.
Unsure where your organization is in its data journey? Take our Nonprofit Data Maturity Model Quiz to get a better sense of what stage you’re in and where you can start below.
At the Committed Stage, you’re likely at the beginning of your data journey or stuck in an antiquated process. You’re full of passion, but lack a standardized approach to tracking data and assessing it to measure outcomes. Begin by identifying ways to get your data out of silos or establishing types of data to track. This may seem tedious at first, and it can be, but it’s a crucial step to advancing to the next stage in your data journey. Start small and create a process that works for everyone and that leadership approves of.
One way to simplify your data collection and processes is by utilizing a system that centralizes your data. Doing so allows you to see your important data all in one place, making it easier to count your outputs more effectively and efficiently. Automating tasks like data intake or entry can also save staff time and eliminate dual entries. And as a bonus, a centralized data system (like Apricot) can help you set yourself up for potential funding opportunities by streamlining reporting and presenting your data more methodically.
Consider this stage the awkward teenage years of your development into a high-performing organization. Understand that there are going to be growing pains and occasional data gaps, but getting this stage down is necessary. And while you may not have the most visibility into your service delivery from a data standpoint yet, this is a perfect opportunity to examine your outputs, sit down with your leadership, and define what success looks like for your programs and organization. Then, tie those insights to a few key outcomes you can begin measuring.
Don’t be afraid to start small at this point. You aren’t expected to go from solely counting your outputs to measuring your overarching outcomes in a day. Begin by identifying important outputs and assessing them to see how your service delivery has changed over time and how your services have and continue to affect your clients and community.
Change is key. You don’t want your service delivery to stay stagnant—you want your services to improve as you deliver them. To gauge the change you’re creating with your service delivery, focus on quality performance measures that show progress over time. The performance measure(s) should be determined by yourself, your leadership, and your stakeholders to ensure everyone is on the same page and there’s a holistic sense of what your organization needs to do to get to the next level.
At this stage, your organization should be able to look at the data you’re tracking and determine the long-term effects of your service delivery. However, having a holistic view of your services may still be difficult. To get that end-to-end perspective, start infusing data and outcomes management into everyday functions at every level of your organization. This includes tracking the entire journey a program participant goes through from the start of their participation to when they exit. It also includes tracking the inner workings of each program you’re running to discover how they serve your clients, and how they roll up through your organization as a whole. At this stage, it’s vital to get your entire team and stakeholders on board and excited about collecting data to interpret how it leads to outcomes.
One key way to streamline these efforts is to ensure your data management system is configured to meet reporting requirements, individual program needs, and outcomes measurements. This will not only build team morale as it relates to your data, but it will also help you get more insight into what may be missing in your reporting needs and your programs as a whole.
Before advancing to the next and final stage of the Nonprofit Data Maturity Model, it’s also important to regularly utilize robust reporting that is focused on the ongoing evaluation of data to understand the full impact you’re creating.
One way to ensure that you are doing everything you can to remain at this high level of performance is to configure your data collection system to meet your various program needs and outcomes measurements. Take inventory of your program data and ensure that it aligns with the outcomes goals you and your leadership have set for your organization. That way, you can ensure your programs are doing everything they can to deliver timely and appropriate services to all of your clients.
Along those same lines, continuously evaluate your programs and services and use your data to understand the impact you’ve created across your organization. At this stage of the Nonprofit Data Maturity Model, you have the data you need to measure and gauge the impact you’re creating in your organization and beyond. Use your data to inform and empower your decisions so you can create even more impact and easily demonstrate all the good your organization is doing in your community.
Make sure to report on your data to measure and manage the progress you’ve made over time. And remember, high performance is the goal, but you weren’t always at this stage, and it’s not guaranteed. It’s important to use reporting as a tool to see where you started and as a lens to see where you can go in the future. Continue to strive for a higher level of data agility and use your reporting structure as the foundation for it all.
Download our eBook, Mapping Your Data Journey: The Social Solutions Maturity Model, to get a deeper understanding of the Nonprofit Data Maturity Model and how you can take your organization to the next level.
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