Money & Business

New Research Shows Dichotomy in How Nonprofits Use Data

By / Nov 19, 2012

A new study by NTEN: The Nonprofit Technology Network found that although many nonprofits are collecting data, there is a discrepancy among those that are using it strategically and those that are merely measuring things.

Most nonprofits are tracking some kind of data, but when it comes to using that data strategically, there is a great divide between organizations that are doing a lot with their data and those that are doing very little with it, according to a new study by NTEN: The Nonprofit Technology Network.

The report, “The State of Nonprofit Data,” found that 99 percent of nonprofit organizations are tracking metrics in areas such as finance and operations, communications and marketing, program effectiveness, and client outcomes.

This is really an important snapshot of where nonprofits are in their current data collection and use practices.

“This is really an important snapshot of where nonprofits are in their current data collection and use practices,” said Annaliese Hoehling, publications director at NTEN.  “There are some things in this report that may not be that surprising, but I think there are real eye-openers as well, especially in the relationships between internal and external factors that can help or hurt a nonprofit’s progress toward being more effective and strategic with their data.”

The most commonly reported data among all of the 398 surveyed nonprofits was financial information. A majority of organizations said they rigorously track financial data and reported that it was “critical” for budgeting decisions.

Communications, fundraising, and program data were less consistently tracked and analyzed.

“We found that organizations either weren’t consistently tracking this (as in the case of program and client data) or weren’t using it to actually inform decisions (as in the case of the communications and fundraising data),” Hoehling said. “We think that’s where the big split is between those who are collecting data and doing something with it, and those who may be collecting data but aren’t doing anything with it.”

Some of the internal and external barriers hindering nonprofit data collection and strategic use included not having enough man power or time, not knowing what data to collect or how to use it, competing demands or conflicting reporting requirements, and limited money or technology.

The study listed several recommendations to help nonprofits better leverage data, including changing an organization’s culture to value data, starting small, and establishing quantifiable goals that help an organization achieve its mission.

Katie Bascuas

Katie Bascuas is associate editor of Associations Now. More »

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