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Data silos: The problem with tools that isolate your data

October 11, 2021
Nonprofit leaders discuss data that has been siloed in separate systems and how to resolve the issue.

Nonprofit organizations that commit themselves to helping their communities must collect and interpret data about those communities and their ongoing needs to understand how inputs lead to long-term outcomes. This allows nonprofits to better understand how their efforts impact communities in need. 

Keeping track of your data can not only lead to better results for your organization’s programs, but also result in earning more grants, making more informed decisions, and providing a clearer picture of your organization for donors. 

To maximize data collection and interpretation, nonprofits should seek to eliminate data silos, which we’ll explain how to do in this guide.

What are data silos?

Data silos are a place where you store information that keeps it separate from all of your other information. Sometimes, organizations create data silos on purpose. For instance, keeping your case management notes separate from your donor information can help your organization keep better track of both. In this example, the data collected on your beneficiaries has nothing to do with your donors, so keeping them separate can actually help your organization stay more organized and prevent potential data privacy leaks. 

By contrast, an example of a negative data silo would be if your organization’s program notes were kept in a separate system from your case records.

For example, a nonprofit might use Google Spreadsheets to take attendance for a program where clients receive help with their resumes. However, the data collected through this spreadsheet is not connected to each client’s case file. 

This data silo would result in case managers being unsure whether clients they’re working with have attended your resume-building workshop. To find the answer, they would need to add an extra step in their workflow of looking at both each client’s case file and then checking the attendance spreadsheet.

Eliminating these types of data silos makes service delivery smoother and more efficient. In addition, your organization can cut down on hours of manual work spent compiling all of your data into one place.

How to avoid data silos

There are steps that organizations of all sizes can take to avoid isolating data. First, evaluate your organization’s needs and learn more about the data you should be tracking. 

The next step is to find a data management software solution, such as a donor database or case management solution. It’s important to choose a  solution that will grow with your organization and aid you in your nonprofit’s purpose.

Software solutions designed for the social sector provide organizations with the capacity to contain all of their data in the same place. Having the ability to store all of a client’s relevant data in a single location not only saves you time otherwise spent compiling data from two separate places, but it also helps you better visualize the impact that you have on the community.


    Program Management