Many say that “data is the new water of the world.” However, only 40% of nonprofit organizations utilize data to make decisions. As a result, it can be challenging to think strategically about data: what to measure, how to track it, when to track it, how to share that data, etc.
Many organizations have some type of database to collect and save data—typically an array of tools or basic surveys and spreadsheets—but don’t have the staff bandwidth to manage all of that data efficiently. It’s safe to say that many social good professionals know that data is crucial to their organization’s success, but they struggle to reach a level of data maturity.
When used properly, data can take nonprofit organizations to new heights. It can make the difference between low and high performance in terms of delivered outcomes, funding, growth trajectory and so much more. But, like all things in life, getting to a level of high performance requires hard work, commitment, the right tools, and a deeper appreciation and understanding of your data.
Data maturity is a measurement of how sophisticated a company’s data analysis and management systems are. Organizations operating at a low level of data maturity might struggle with service delivery efficiencies, funder relationships, and even staff retention. Highly mature organizations, on the other hand, have woven data into the fabric of their long- and short-term decision-making; data is at the core of everything they do, which makes everything else more efficient.
While it’s impossible to deny the importance of data in the world we live in today, not every organization is in the same stage. That’s why we’ve created the Data Maturity Model to help you map your organization’s unique data journey. The Maturity Model is intended to provide insight into where your organization can improve and show a clearer path of how to grow and do more with your data.
Our team at Social Solutions developed a Data Maturity Model Quiz to help you easily determine which stage your organization currently resides as well as a Mapping your Data Journey: The Social Solutions Maturity Model eBook that provides an in-depth look at each step of the data journey with helpful tips and best practices.
In this two-part blog series, we dig into each of the four stages and help you better identify your organization’s maturity level and provide guidance on getting to the next level of data maturity. This post covers Stage 1 and Stage 2 of the Data Maturity Model (Stages 3 & 4 are covered here).
“We have systems to collect data, but they’re not very sophisticated. We use paper forms to collect information from our clients, then manually input those into Google Sheets. When a staff member leaves, we have a hard time transitioning those processes, and the data is often scattered and inconsistent. This makes it hard for us to track basically anything. We’d love to provide more detailed reporting to our funders, but we lack the tools and staffing to do so. As a result, we’re much more reactive than proactive when it comes to our data.”
Organizations at the Committed Stage of the Data Maturity Model are full of passion for the issue they’re pursuing. That passion translates into everything they do, and it can lead to sleepless nights, early mornings, but, ultimately, tons of fulfillment.
Because passion is the main driving force of your operation, there’s not much room for effective data collection. You didn’t open your organization’s doors to collect data—you opened them to help the people in your community. But data collection is an important part of that. Tracking each client and interaction you have can point to important conclusions that you can’t see otherwise.
But, without implementing these processes into your systems, you won’t have much visibility into your programs or service delivery and how they are interacting with your clients. Another issue you can face at this stage is your limited access to funding. Because there is little data collection happening, you don’t have enough information to apply for grants. Of course, this immediately puts you at a disadvantage because, without funding, you can’t grow your mission, and that can leave you stuck, even if you have a lot of potential.
Every organization has to start somewhere. No organization can become “data-driven” overnight. If you take the Maturity Model quiz and find that you’re in Stage 1, it’s time to start having conversations with your organization’s leadership and your stakeholders about the role of data in your organization. Develop a comprehensive plan that can help you get your new data initiative off of the ground. As you have these talks, remember – the more you record and collect information effectively, the better your chances are of gaining more funding and getting to the next level in the Data Maturity Model.
“We have a formal data-collection process in place. While there are still gaps in the data we collect, we’ve at least determined what data will be valuable to our community, our clients, stakeholders, and our larger shared goals. We have established a system to obtain these data points, and we’ve already gathered some great insights, but there are still a lot of gaps. We’ve tasted and seen what data can do, and it’s exciting. We know that we can do more and level up our data collection, analysis, and management process.”
The Counting Outputs stage involves taking the strategies you’ve previously developed and moving forward in a more strategic way. At this stage, you begin looking at your data for insights into your service delivery and programs in the form of outputs, or the individual interactions you have with your clients. With outputs, you can see how your services are affecting your clients on an individual level, which is great for you and your stakeholders.
Another milestone that happens at this stage is that you have enough data to apply for grants, which is an enormous win. This funding can help you make a pervasive change and grow your mission. But, having funders puts an even greater pressure to report on the data you collect and give it to them in a timely manner, which can be hard at this stage. You’ve only just gotten used to collecting data, and it can be difficult to report more frequently.
Along with that, there are bound to be gaps in your data at this stage. It happens to many organizations. Even if just one client or point of interest gets missed,it creates a gap that you will need to fill in order to get a full picture of your programs. However, since your organization is new at formalized data collection, your team might not be equipped to stop, identify the error, and fix it in a timely fashion. This will inevitably lead to less visibility into your programs and service delivery as a whole.
Achieving high data maturity is attainable with the right resources. Be sure to check out the next blog post that covers Stages 3 & 4 here. In addition, you can access and take our Data Maturity Model Quiz and download our Mapping your Data Journey: The Social Solutions Maturity Model eBook to get started on this exciting and rewarding data journey today!
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