“Big data” is a trendy buzz word. Sure, the ability to process and handle absurdly large amounts of data has become greater and more accessible, but the fact of the matter is that if an organization is not sure how to begin measuring and organizing, buying into the “big data” movement is useless. Storytelling for nonprofits is not as difficult as one might think; organizations can utilize their data in a meaningful way to emotionally connect with the public.
Steve Bowland of Non Profit Quarterly wrote something that made a lot of sense to me in trying to simplify this seeming monolith of “BIG DATA.” He says, “One of the things Big Data can do is help tell the story of how you plan to make a difference in your community.”
“Big Data” doesn’t necessarily have to be this daunting, overwhelming idea. We can call it big data — little b, little d — just diversified data you are collecting to measure progress towards a particular goal and to minimize distance between your work and your mission statement.
Like Steve mentioned, beyond using data for internal strategic planning, collect the right data to tell followers and investors a story about how you are currently making a difference and how you will continue to make a difference in your sector of work. Stories are relatable, controllable, malleable and, most importantly, inspiring.
When you think about data as a story, planning what to do with it isn’t quite so daunting. Assess your mission statement and the activities and programs you are performing to promote it. Then, identify what information you need to prove your impact around that narrative, give outsiders insight to your vision and improve your own focus on the long-term goals of projects.
For example, do you work on housing projects? Ensure you’re tracking living conditions before and after projects are completed with metrics, photos, and long-form experiences. While certain metric data seems to take priority over everything else, especially in research-oriented projects, maintaining different categories of data that allow understanding beyond statistical significance is becoming increasingly important.
Defining and organizing data makes collecting it less painful and is important for curating comprehensive buckets of information that assist in both internal strategic decision making and external reporting.
In the end, data writes a story that gives organizations the power to both better understand the impact they’re making and share it effectively with others. Data holds, ironically, almost immeasurable power. Instead of fearing it, begin simply, with a story.