The most well known misfortune of humanitarian nonprofits is their grapple with securing funding and resources to provide their altruistic services. While maintaining enough mana to proceed with status quo operations is an obvious necessity, organizations and the missions they serve ultimately benefit from expanding their reach and deepening their impact. To do so requires improving efficiency and efficacy by analyzing data gathered and implementing strategy based on that analysis. Nonprofits and data collection have enjoyed improvement thanks to wider accessibility of technology and software.
Here, organizations find themselves in a dilemma since this, too, takes resources. Expensive data collection mechanisms – whether that be software, hardware or manpower (such as hiring research experts) – make it difficult for organizations to improve impact through data analyzation.
Organizations are collecting data daily, and the power of data goes to waste if it is thrown to the wayside and never revisited for tracking and analysis.
A recent publication by the Nonprofit Technology Network (NTEN) reports that 99% of nonprofits they surveyed responded they collect some sort of metrics but many fewer were actually using that data for programming and strategy decisions. Organizations cited lack of technology, knowledge or resources to utilize the vital information. According to the publication,
“While many nonprofits look at metrics that would actually measure the long term outcomes of their work as the “holy grail” of data-based decision-making, it’s unclear that this level of measurement is practical or even possible for many nonprofits. Many orgs need to either rely on metrics which are indirect measures of long term impact—like the number of repeat clients, client satisfaction, or percent of client issues resolved—or invest in expensive, long-term longitudinal research.”
Challenges faced by organizations by topic
Harnessing the power of data is imperative for organizations because by doing so they can:
1. Significantly improve the programs they implement
2. Track their impact over time
3. Present tangible results to important investors
4. Garner public support through comprehensive, forward facing reporting
A significant challenge many organizations face is the collection and management of data. Although they might be aware of the information that is out there for their disposal, they are unable to actually net any of it.
Not only did organizations report barriers to collecting data, but many weren’t sure what they would do with any of it anyways. Nonprofits acknowledged tracking the evolution and successes or failures of programs would be useful, but were often unsure of how to do so.
Barriers to utilizing data in strategic decisions
The expansion of mobile technology and cloud databases have made collecting, storing, and extracting data simpler and more accessible over the years. Large teams of IT experts are often irrelevant in managing these new systems, at least for the scale most organizations occupy.
Implementing easy-to-use and economical data management systems are important and worthy investments for nonprofits as both the private and public sectors move deeper into digital realms.
Digitalizing the data collection itself saves enormous amounts of time and energy; surveyors, transcribers and analysis experts can gather and organize information much faster than previously. The lead time on research results becomes smaller, and important manipulations of programs are done with practical speed.
The digital world doesn’t simply favor nimbleness, it requires it. Digitalizing the way organizations handle data allows those entities to remain relevant while improving (and proving) impact.
Stay tuned to impactflo’s Track Impact, right here, for information on how organizations can thrive in the “big data” movement, case studies to learn from, and more on the entire data pipeline: from data collection to visualization.