e live in a society that thrives on data consumption. Everything everywhere is communicated using data. Organizations that are not taking advantage of this will have a difficult time understanding why their organization is not high performing.
There are many benefits to collecting and analyzing data or developing a data structure. However, most organizations are not collecting data. Moreover, if they are, they are not using it to their benefit. This article will use the definition of data to help non-profit leaders avoid the five most significant mistakes of handling data.
According to Webster’s Dictionary, data is defined as, “factual information (such as measurements or statistics) …”; “… in digital form that can be transmitted or processed” and “…includes both useful and irrelevant or redundant information and must be processed to be meaningful.“ Using this definition as a guide, let’s dive into the five most significant mistakes you want to avoid while showing how data can contribute to your success.
This mistake is two-fold. First, there are no facts because the data is not being collected. Second, the data holds no integrity because it is being manipulated. If you are not receiving data, you are potentially allowing someone else write the story of your non-profit organization. If you are not truthful about the data, your account is an inaccurate one. Both scenarios will play out like a terrible Lifetime TV biopic, based on emotion and perception rather than on the facts.
In some cases, the picture that the data is painting is not pretty. Therefore, some organizations stretch, cover up or omit the truth. All electronic information is date and time stamped, recorded, and tracked. The mission of your organization deserves integrity. Not to mention, being outed for misrepresenting the impact of your organization is considered unethical, illegal, and in some cases punishable by law.
Base of Reasoning
Another common mistake is not using data to leverage decision making, goal development, and the strategic planning process. I do not discourage my clients from taking a course of action they think will benefit their mission if they have considered the following questions:
Does this course of action align with the mission?
What resources do I currently have to support this?
What is the desired outcome?
How will the desired outcome affect your overall goals?
How is success defined?
Incorporating the required data into the decision-making process will improve your likelihood of success.
Useful and irrelevant or redundant information
With all of the data being communicated to us, or even collected within our organization, it is easy to get overwhelmed. Focusing on irrelevant data or too many data points are also mistakes that should be avoided. My company’s motto is “Success is not haphazard.” I chose that slogan because many times we are successful, however, we cannot recreate the same level of success. This can occur when the data that would pinpoint which aspects of the process made it successful were not being captured.
To identify the critical data points, organizations must develop goal metrics. These metrics, simply put, tell what aspect of performance has the most impact on success. The key to avoiding this mistake is understanding what data you are collecting and deciding what is useful versus what is irrelevant.
Must be processed to be meaningful
Now that we understand why we need to collect data, how to manage it, and how to filter it, the next question is what do we do with it? The following two mistakes will discuss exactly that. In this section, we will consider the error in not analyzing the data. Data analysis can be exciting, intriguing, eye-opening and straightforward.
Look at any set of data from a specific period (i.e., six months, three weeks, one year). Identify the peaks and valleys and determine the reason for them.
Take that same set of data and period, and compare it to a similar performance during another period. Observe the difference in performance and decide what may be affecting it.
Use the critical data points you identified, by avoiding mistake #3 and look at the factors that contributed to the success or failure of an initiative.
These are just a few ways to analyze data, but there many more approaches available. The key is to collect data that will support your strategic initiative, and then examine it to gauge performance. The results provide leadership with an excellent vantage point from which they can make decisions that will improve the organization’s performance and efficiency.
Information in a digital form that can be transmitted
The final mistake I will discuss is underestimating the power of communicating and marketing with the use of data. Which sounds better?
Non-profit organization XYZ has changed lives by helping to support the eradication of hunger in four states. Please support our cause by donating today!
Non-profit organization XYZ eradicates hunger at a rate of 5 households per month. It is our goal to double the number of homes we are servicing. To meet this goal, we need four sponsors to donate $30 per month for the next year. Please support our cause by becoming a monthly contributor today!
The second choice paints a detailed picture and makes it easy for the potential sponsor to see the vision, how close you are to bringing it to reality, and how their contribution will support it.
Data is critical when communicating your impact with audiences. While it may not be a topic that interests everyone, information is one of the interwoven threads throughout every aspect of your organization.
Tamisha LaRue Thomas is the owner, founder, and Lead Strategist of TLaRue Solutions, LLC. TLaRue Solutions provides nonprofit organizations and small businesses with strategic solutions that enhance their ability to bring their vision to reality.
Prior to starting her company a little over a year ago, Tamisha has been a program analyst for Federal Aviation Administration (FAA ) for the last 14 years. Currently she is the program manager a newly deployed Unmanned Aircraft Systems web application for first responders and the military. Tamisha also serves as Vice President of the Washington HQ National Black Coalition of Aviation Employees (NBCFAE).