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How to become a data-driven organization using our model

August 25, 2020
A group of employees at a nonprofit look over data charts.

Collecting and managing your nonprofit organization’s data is important for understanding and communicating the incredible work you do for your community. This information provides insight into the people you’re helping, how your services impact them, and where there are opportunities for improvement. Plus, with a handle on your data, you’ll be better equipped to make educated and strategic decisions about the future of your programs and organization. 

To simplify the data management process, we created a nonprofit data maturity model, a set of standards and stages designed to help organizations identify their level of data sophistication and map their journey to becoming more data-driven. 

We’ll review the stages and tell you exactly how to use them to become a data-driven organization, helping you better understand how to solve pain points and ascend to the next stage in your data journey. With the right tools, dedication, leadership commitment, and staff buy-in, your organization can go from fundamental and reactive to high-performing and data agile. 

Tips for stage one: how to ascend to counting outputs 

Stage one of our data maturity model is the committed stage. During this stage, you’re likely at the beginning of your data journey or looking to move away from an antiquated process. You’re full of passion for your purpose, but your organization lacks a standardized approach to tracking data and assessing it to measure outcomes. 

Begin by identifying ways to get your data out of silos and establishing types of data to track. This is a crucial step to advancing to the next stage in your data journey. Start small and create a process that works for everyone and that leadership approves of.  

One way to simplify your data collection and processes is by utilizing a system that centralizes your data. Doing so allows you to:

  • See your important data all in one place.
  • Count your outputs more effectively and efficiently.
  • Automate tasks like data intake or entry.
  • Save staff time and eliminate dual entries. 

And as a bonus, a centralized data system can help you set yourself up for potential funding opportunities by streamlining reporting and presenting your data more methodically. 

Tips for stage two: how to ascend to measuring outcomes

At stage two, the counting outcomes stage, there are often growing pains and occasional data gaps. But while you may not have the most visibility into your service delivery from a data standpoint yet, this is a perfect opportunity for growth.

Don’t be afraid to start small at this point. You aren’t expected to go from solely counting your outputs to measuring your overarching outcomes in a day. Follow these steps to accelerate your progress and move to the next stage:

  1. Examine your outputs. Begin by identifying important outputs. Then, start assessing them to see how your service delivery has changed over time and how your services continue to affect your clients and community.
  2. Sit down with your leadership. Present your initial findings, then discuss what’s going well with the organization overall and what areas need improvement. 
  3. Define what success looks like for your programs. Change is key. To keep your service delivery from staying stagnant, outline how you want your services to improve as you deliver them. 
  4. Tie your insights to key outcomes you can begin measuringTo gauge the change you’re creating with your service delivery, focus on quality performance measures that show progress over time. 

The performance measures should be determined by yourself, your leadership, and your stakeholders to ensure everyone is on the same page. Once you complete this process, everyone will have a holistic sense of what your organization needs to do to get to the next level. 

Tips for stage three: how to ascend to managing outcomes

At the measuring outcomes stage, your organization should be able to look at the data you’re tracking and determine the long-term effects of your service delivery. To get a more holistic, end-to-end perspective, start infusing data and outcomes management into everyday functions at every level of your organization. This includes:

  • Tracking the entire journey a program participant goes through from the start of their participation to when they exit. 
  • Documenting the inner workings of each program you’re running to discover how they serve your clients and how they roll up through your organization as a whole. 

At this stage, it’s vital to get your entire team and stakeholders on board and excited about collecting data to interpret how it leads to outcomes. 

One key way to streamline these efforts is to ensure your data management system is configured to meet reporting requirements, individual program needs, and outcomes measurements. This not only builds team morale as it relates to your data, but it also helps you get more insight into what may be missing in your reporting needs and your programs as a whole. 

Before advancing to the final stage of the nonprofit data maturity model to become a data-driven organization, regularly utilize robust reporting that is focused on the ongoing evaluation of data to understand the full impact you’re creating.  

Tips for stage four: how to continuously improve your data

One way to ensure that you are doing everything you can to remain at this high level of performance is to configure your data collection system to meet your various program needs and outcomes measurements. Then, use these tips on a regular basis for continuous improvement:

  • Take inventory of your program data. Ensure that it aligns with the outcomes goals you and your leadership have set for your organization. 
  • Evaluate your programs frequently. Based on your data, check that they are doing everything they can to deliver timely and appropriate services to all of your clients. Make improvements as needed.
  • Report on your data to measure and manage progress. High performance is the goal, but it’s important to use reporting as a tool to see where you started and predict where you can go in the future. 

At this stage of the data maturity model, you have the data you need to measure and gauge the impact you’re creating in your organization and beyond. Use your data to inform and empower your decisions so you can create even more impact and easily demonstrate all the good your organization is doing in your community. Continue to strive for a higher level of data agility, and use your reporting structure as the foundation for it all. 

Ready for more?

Partner with Bonterra to get a deeper understanding of the nonprofit data maturity model and how you can reach new heights as a data-driven organization. 

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    Program Management
  • Nonprofits
  • Coordinating social services