Five reasons nonprofits should invest in data and impact

If you’re a nonprofit leader you know that you’ve got a lot to handle all at one time. You run programs, raise money, manage staff, navigate board meetings – the list is endless. So why should you invest your time and resources in data and impact?

Here are five reasons to invest in data and impact at your nonprofit:

Reason #1: Data can help you tell if you’re making a difference 

It used to be that nonprofits could just do good work. You could feed the hungry, care for the sick, house the homeless, and everyone would pat your back and thank you for the ways you’ve contributed to your community.  

But the landscape of nonprofits has changed, especially for those in education, health, and human services. Those who fund your work want to know if and how you are making an impact so they can see how their support of your work translates into social good. And we should embrace this change: after all, we too want to know that we’re making a difference and want to learn more about how we can better advance our cause area.

Nonprofits use all kinds of data to demonstrate impact, from program data detailing the demographics and outcomes for the people they serve to data on donors and giving. They conduct customer satisfaction surveys, record data in case management files, run pre-post tests using online survey tools, and even conduct randomized controlled trials – the most rigorous method for examining program impact. We’ll talk about these methods and more in this program and help you identify which ones will help you make your case for impact. 

Reason #2: Data will help you tell your story

Many nonprofits have relied on storytelling to raise funds and support their cause. And for good reason – stories help make a connection and evoke empathy in funders who then want to support your work. But data can also tell a story beyond spreadsheets and PowerPoint slides. Data can tell important information about your story that your funders want to know, like the demographics of the population you’re serving or the relationship between enrollment in a program and achieving a particular outcome. That’s why the best nonprofits include data in many aspects of their communications materials, from annual reports to inspirational videos.  

Reason #3: Data will help you learn about and improve upon your work 

There is no person who is better suited to understand what’s going on in your organization than you and your team. No textbook, TED Talk, or expert will tell if you if and how your program is working or how it can be improved.

Data allows you to ask and answer your own questions about programs, service, and impact. You become the expert of your own work. You learn about what's working - and what isn't - and make a plan to improve with each new insight learned.

Reason #4: Data will help you get funded

Almost every grant application asks you to report on how you intend to measure the impact of your work. If you’re funded, you’ll be asked later to then report on what you found. Having good data on the work you do is increasingly starting to make or break grant applications. The nonprofits who have a system for gathering, analyzing, reporting, and sharing program impact will be the organizations who secure funding to continue their work. 

Reason #5: Data will make you a thought leader 

We sometimes forget in the nonprofit sector that our engagement in communities and our service in our cause area makes us experts on our experience – and this experience can be valuable when shared. Having data that measure the impact on our work and helps us to learn from our mistakes is a valuable resources that others in the community can learn from and use to improve their own work.

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Andrew Reynolds