Secrets of Data Driven Nonprofts

“Data literacy is one of the most valuable skills you can have today and as you move into the future.”

Sounds like advice you might find in a book entitled "Data Driven Nonprofits," doesn’t it?

I had the good fortune to hear the author, Steve MacLaughlin, (again!) as the featured speaker at Nonprofit Connect’s 'think-tank Thursday,' “Secrets of Data Driven Nonprofits.” 

I’ve heard Steve speak a number of times. He’s a great resource on trends in giving, and as Vice President of Data & Analytics at Blackbaud, has a wealth of information at his fingertips.

It also gives him the benefit of watching a broad cross-section of our industry. I found his illustration of the data maturation process - i.e., how organizations understand and use data – very insightful. Essentially, the stages are:
• Descriptive - "What happened?"
• Diagnostic - "Why?"
• Predictive - "What will happen?"
• Prescriptive - "What should we do?"

Unfortunately, many nonprofits are barely at stage one, while the most successful have grown far beyond that. (One caveat: predictive and prescriptive analytics require the use of outside data, which also happens to be one of Blackbaud’s key businesses.)

MacLaughlin identified five secrets (aka best practices) to moving your organization toward taking best advantage of the data available to it.

  1. Data health (better semantic than data hygiene, which he feels sounds painful) – habits to help ensure and maintain the quality and completeness of constituent data.
  2. Champions at all levels – advocates for data management and data-based decision-making throughout the organization.
  3. Data is not a foreign object – making the understanding and use of data routine, "part of the day-to-day fabric" of the organization.  
  4. Good storytelling – data doesn’t speak for itself; it’s a prop for a story and how you present (visualize) that prop can make or break the story.
  5. Culture – the use of data has to fit the culture of the organization. He identified seven different types of organizational culture: champions, change, testing, sharing, growth, agile and data.

So far, I’ve only glanced at the book, but if it offers the same combination of anecdotal and data-based insights that was presented this morning, I already know it’s worth the time.

And if you weren’t able to attend this Nonprofit Connect session, I recommend you pick up a copy as well.