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Nonprofit data collection: 5 key data points to track

December 12, 2021
Two women analyze charts displaying metrics obtained from nonprofit data collection.

Collecting, tracking, and managing nonprofit data allows you to measure and quantify the good work your organization does for your community. When you have a handle on your data, you will be equipped to make educated and strategic decisions about what comes next for specific programs and your nonprofit organization as a whole.

By breaking down data into distinct categories, you can see how understanding and using each type leads to your nonprofit organization’s success. In this guide, we’ll discuss why nonprofits should collect data and how to choose data points to track.

Why nonprofit data collection is important

At a high level, the data you should track are your outputs, outcomes, and overall impact. Let’s explore each of these data categories:

  • Outputs are the data points that represent the concrete results of your organization’s work. For example, an education-focused nonprofit could measure its outputs in terms of how many students attended an after-school program or the number of school supplies that were donated to a school in need.
  • Outcomes represent the changes brought about by the outputs your organization produced. In the educational program example, outcomes could include a large percentage of students who improved their grades by attending after-school programs or classes achieving higher test scores as a result of using donated supplies.
  • Impact demonstrates how your organization is making systemic, lasting change through its outputs and outcomes. For our example, some possible impacts could include measurable district-wide improvements in student attendance, academic performance, graduation rates, and college placements.

Essentially, impact indicates whether your organization is fulfilling its purpose. To truly understand and measure how your outputs and outcomes contribute to your impact, you’ll need to track the right data points.

How to choose data points to track

There are many ways to categorize nonprofit data, so you’ll need to prioritize tracking the data that will be most helpful to your organization. These five strategies can help guide your nonprofit data collection, tracking, and analysis.

1. Track data that can lead to more funding

Funding is the backbone of nonprofits and their operations, and the data you track should lead to more funding. Highlighting data that tells a success story about your organization gives supporters a reason to donate and makes a stronger case for funding to grantmakers.

The key to bringing in recurring, reliable funding is collecting and reporting on the data your funders want to see, including both your outputs and their associated outcomes. From your outputs and outcomes, determine how you can weave these data points together to build a picture of progress that proves you are furthering your purpose in your community.

2. Track data that will prove your impact

Measuring your organization’s impact requires taking a closer look at your outcomes and how they relate to your outputs. To show your nonprofit’s impact accurately, find data that demonstrates that your nonprofit is solving temporary issues that make lasting changes in the community you serve.

For example, if your nonprofit is running a campaign to motivate community members to quit smoking, your goal would be that the people you serve eventually exit or graduate from your nonprofit’s course because they no longer need your services. Ask yourself what your organization is doing to ensure that the people in the program have the tools to remain non-smokers and how your program is working to solve the overarching problem in your community. 

In this example, impact is measured as the number of people who finish your nonprofit’s program and don’t resume smoking. To measure impact, your organization could record the number of people who graduate from your program and periodically reach out to them with surveys or questionnaires asking if they still aren’t smoking. Your organization can also track the overall smoking rates in your community before and after you start the program to measure its broader impact. 

3. Track data that tells your community’s stories

Fulfilling your purpose is the reason your organization exists. Therefore, it makes sense to track data showcasing why participants need your services, how your organization supports them in the short term, and how you are transforming people’s lives in the long term. 

While most of your data should be quantitative, this type can also be qualitative. For example, you might collect data by interviewing supporters about their experiences with your nonprofit so you can share testimonials. By telling real stories, you demonstrate how your services are changing individuals’ lives throughout their participation in your programs.

4. Track data that allows you to overcome challenges

While it’s normal for your organization to run into occasional issues as you fulfill your purpose, you can use data to work through these challenges. Track data during times when your organization is experiencing a challenge to understand what caused the issue and what solutions are most effective. This way, you’ll have a better idea of how to handle similar situations going forward.

Remember that your stakeholders are interested in knowing the truth about your work—both the wins and the challenges. If you can demonstrate that you overcame issues and learned from them, it shows that your organization is resilient and reliable.

5. Track data that helps you see your organization end-to-end

You should be able to visualize your organization’s operations from an end-to-end point of view. In other words, you should be able to track the journey a program participant goes through from the beginning to the end of your program. 

Your organization can track this data by:

  • Tracking touchpoints. Track the touchpoints, or contact between you and your constituents, that occur before they commit to your program. This can help you discover which marketing strategies or communication methods are most effective.
  • Conducting surveys. Conduct surveys with staff and program participants to gain a new perspective on your program. Ask about your program’s strengths and request actionable recommendations to make it better. To allow for complete honesty, make the survey anonymous. 
  • Researching exit points. Track which parts of the program participants tend to exit. If many of your participants exit midway through the program, investigate why they might be doing so and how you can increase participant engagement to encourage them to complete the program.

By taking on an external perspective of your organization, you can see the inner workings of each program and how they work together to benefit your organization as a whole. Tracking this data is the best way to understand what is working, where you can improve, and how to expand your offerings.

Secure more support with nonprofit data collection

While your organization can track a variety of data points, the criteria above provide a strong place to start. Consider your outputs, outcomes, and impact to ensure that your organization is tracking the points that will help secure more funding and support in the future.

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