Dealing with disparate data is a big problem for many nonprofits. Because the nature of data collection has changed so much over time—including everything from paper files to Excel spreadsheets to complex databases—there exist many different ways for a nonprofit to collect and synthesize data. Often, these methods are also unique to the nonprofit. And while collecting a lot of data can be helpful, data is only as useful as its analysis. Whether generating reports for supporters to show your impact, analyzing your clients’ progress over time, or simply gathering data for volunteer tracking, understanding the big picture always makes for a more productive nonprofit.
Here are some quick tips to help your nonprofit better understand and eventually eliminate data silos.
What are data silos?
Data silos, also called “disparate data”, are sets of data that exist in different systems, and are therefore difficult to compare and synchronize.
How are data silos created?
Often, data becomes separated as a result of using multiple data management systems. These could exist as physical files or digital ones, and might also include different systems across various departments, programs, or locations of a nonprofit. As a result, there may be major disparities between the methods of input and maintenance for data. What’s more, these systems are often inflexible, so when a new need arises (say, a new metric to record or a new kind of report to generate) an additional data collection method, if not a new system altogether, must be put into place. These systems and their respective data exist in their own silos.
What is the problem with data silos?
Because data silos don’t allow for comparison across platforms, data silos can negatively affect the way you understand the activity of your clients, employees, volunteers, and donors. Without access to the big picture, it becomes difficult for an organization to make improvements based on past performance.
How can my nonprofit break down data silos?
- Assess your data collection.
Start by performing an assessment of your data collection methods and your data management systems. Figure out exactly how many systems you are using, where and by whom they are being used, and whether they are providing useful information. Make sure you are collecting the data you need, rather than duplicate or irrelevant data. Also check in with staff members who interact with data on a day-to-day basis. Ask what challenges they face with disparate data and what they require from a data management system.
- Consolidate your systems.
Next, figure out how to merge systems and set up more efficient data collection operations. If choosing a nonprofit software, find one that is flexible enough to accommodate changes and growth in your organization. It should facilitate things like assessment tracking, setting performance targets, and generating outcomes reports, while remaining open to the option of new data fields and unique reports as your nonprofit evolves.
- Touch base with staff.
Once you have changed the way you treat your data, make sure the employees and volunteers who input and maintain the data are up to speed. Hold training sessions to familiarize staff with new procedures, get feedback about problems they are encountering, and even brainstorm how to best utilize the new system. If using a nonprofit software with communication tools like reminders and in-program bulletins, figure out how best to use those to the organization’s benefit.
Share Your Story with CTK
Do you have problems with disparate data in your nonprofit? What advice do you have for nonprofits that need to break down data silos? Click here to submit your story to the Mission Accomplished blog.