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The 4 stages of your nonprofit’s Data Maturity Model

May 29, 2021
A group of young professionals sit in a conference room and reference a poster board of graphs while exploring the four stages of their nonprofit's Data Maturity Model.

Data is important for nonprofit organizations, allowing them to report on outcomes, secure funding, and so much more. When used properly, data can take nonprofit organizations to new heights. It can make the difference between low and high performance in terms of delivered outcomes, funding, growth trajectory, and so much more.

Nonprofits need to decide what data to track, how to house their data efficiently, and how to use it for more effective service delivery. To make the most of your data, your organization will need to manage it and achieve data maturity. Let’s go over what that is, how to benchmark it, and go over the four stages of the Data Maturity Model.

What is data maturity?

Data maturity is a measurement of how sophisticated a nonprofit’s data analysis and management systems are. For example, highly mature nonprofits center data as the core of everything they do, making their operations more efficient.

What is the Data Maturity Model?

Every nonprofit will have a different data management process. Depending on factors including geographical service area, staff size, budget, and service delivery, the data you collect, manage, analyze, and store is going to vary greatly from others. That’s why it’s important to have a focused “data map” to chart your nonprofit’s path to optimal data sophistication.

That’s where the nonprofit Data Maturity Model comes in. It’s a system intended to help you map your data journey by providing insight into where your nonprofit can improve. It will also show you a clear path of how to grow and do more with your data.

There are four stages of the Data Maturity Model:

  • Committed
  • Counting Outputs
  • Measuring Outcomes
  • Managing Outcomes

Let’s dive deeper into these four stages, help you identify which maturity level your nonprofit is at, and provide guidance on how to get to the next level of data maturity.

Stage 1: Committed

For nonprofits in this stage, you may have systems to collect data, but they aren’t very sophisticated. For example, you might use paper forms to collect information from your supporters, and then manually input that information into Google Sheets. You want to provide more detailed reports to your funders but need new tools or more staff time to do so. As a result, you’re more reactive than proactive when it comes to your data.

By implementing data maturity processes, you’ll have more visibility into your programs and service delivery. Tracking each supporter and the interactions you have can point to important data-driven conclusions that will advance your relationships. You can also compile your data and provide it when you apply for grants, using it to tell your story and help you acquire more funding.

If you think your nonprofit is in the committed stage of the Data Maturity Model, it’s time to start having conversations with your organization’s leadership and stakeholders about the role of data in your organization. Develop a comprehensive plan that will get your new data initiative off of the ground. As you have these talks, remember that the more effectively you record and collect information, the better your chances are of gaining funding and getting to the next level in the Data Maturity Model.

Stage 2: Counting outputs

Nonprofits in the counting outputs stage have a formal data-collection process. While there might be gaps in the data you collect, you’ve determined what data will be valuable to your community, beneficiaries, and stakeholders. You know what information you need to move toward your purpose and have established a system to obtain those data points.

This stage involves taking the strategies you’ve previously developed and moving forward in a more strategic way. Analyze your data for insights into interactions you have with donors, as well as the outcomes of your service delivery and programs. With these outputs, you can see how your services affect your beneficiaries on an individual level. You can even use your data insights to create better experiences for your donors

Another milestone that happens at this stage is that your data is sophisticated enough to apply for grants. This funding can help you make lasting changes as you work towards your purpose. Having funders means you’ll need to report on the data you collect and deliver it in a timely manner. For nonprofits in the counting outputs stage, you’ll need to further refine your system to meet these expectations.

You may also have gaps in your data while your nonprofit is in this stage. Identifying and filling these gaps will be your next step for improving your data management and having increased visibility into your nonprofit’s programs and service delivery as a whole.

Stage 3: Measuring outcomes

In the prior stages, nonprofits are either having conversations about data strategies or are beginning to formalize their existing data-collection process. In the measuring outcomes stage, you’ll go beyond laying the groundwork and start to form a systematic, organized, and possibly cloud-based process. 

In this stage, you’ll be able to see outputs at a high level and improve your service delivery because of your ability to track key metrics. You can measure and track data trends to make short-term decisions to improve your nonprofit’s performance.

Additionally, one of the biggest turning points nonprofits experience in stage three is their ability to communicate their value to funders. This is because pulling reports and discovering trends is much easier, due to having organized and uniform data. Reporting becomes more reliable and less resource-intensive. You might even see higher internal morale because you can easily see the progress and impact you’ve made.

Of course, there is still one more stage and your nonprofit can continue to upgrade your data to a truly sophisticated management system that gives you complete visibility into your data. This will allow you to manage your outcomes and reach long-term goals. 

Stage 4: Managing outcomes

In the final stage, your nonprofit is using data optimally, and you are confident that your data is informed and accurate. You’ve mastered counting outputs and measuring outcomes, and your leadership is using collected data to make informed, real-time decisions that benefit your programs and beneficiaries.

Additionally, your organization has reached a level of high performance that allows you to continuously ensure that resources are used optimally to drive desired outcomes. It’s easy to see the effect your work has across all of your programs and different time periods, regions, and demographics.

Although managing outcomes is the final stage in the Data Maturity Model for nonprofits, you can still always improve your processes. Practice constant vigilance to maintain data integrity and ensure that your data system has functionality in place that will help you continue to perform at a high level.

The nonprofit Data Maturity Model: The bottom line

Those are the four stages of the Data Maturity Model. Remember that the model’s goal is to streamline your data management practices so that you can more easily work towards your nonprofit’s purpose. Determine which stage you’re in to get started on this exciting and rewarding data journey!

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