Using Data to Meet Your Strategic Goals

Collecting data from inside your own organization can be difficult, but organizing and analyzing it may help with future strategic decisions.

With so much data available today, organizations can easily become overwhelmed when they are tasked with integrating their own data into their decision making. Yet many experts say every board today should strive to be driven by data. Where do you start?

In the American Society of Association Executives book 7 Measures of Success: What Remarkable Associations Do That Others Don’t, the authors write that remarkable associations constantly gather quantitative, qualitative, formal, and anecdotal information that relates to their members and industry. That data, they wrote, should be analyzed to evaluate an association’s performance and to make decisions about strategic and operational planning.

How can your organization find the right data, organize it, and use it to make more strategic decisions?

Find the Right Data

The first question is: What data should the organization be measuring? The answer varies, and it is important to remember that the strategic goals of your organization will determine what data are most important. Organizations should measure only what’s most important to assess progress on the goals.

In the case of data, less can be more. And even when what the data report isn’t positive, it can be useful. Data-driven organizations are not scared of negative data; they use it to their advantage.

Set Up a Data Dashboard

The simplest way to monitor, analyze, and present data is through some type of “dashboard,” which can be used to relay strategic data to volunteers and staff in an easy-to-read format that enables transparency.

You can create a simple dashboard in Microsoft Excel or use a business intelligence (BI) platform, such as Domo, Tableau, and Qlik (to name three of many). BI tools decrease the potential for human error and can pull data directly from multiple sources (e.g., association management systems, accounting software, or Salesforce). BI tools allow for real-time data reporting, which gives volunteers and staff an up-to-date look at strategic metrics.

Your dashboard should capture the metrics most important to your strategic goals. You may want to start with these categories:

  • membership
  • financial performance
  • sponsorship or fundraising
  • meetings and education
  • certification
  • awareness and reach
  • board and staff development

Use Data for Strategic Decisions

A data-driven organization digs into the metrics, takes the time to understand what they mean, and uses the data when it makes strategic decisions. It shares the data with leaders, staff, and stakeholders so there is transparency around how all goals are tracked and measured. Showing everyone how past goals were accomplished—and how successful they were—will help with any future goals.

A data-driven organization doesn’t try to explain away the data; it analyzes the numbers and figures out how they can help the organization move forward. It doesn’t waste a lot of time discussing “what if” scenarios—because it already has the information it needs to make well-informed decisions.

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