Embracing “Big Data” can be a scary concept. Especially for nonprofits. To many, this practice means learning something new – which, in turn, means investing more resources that are already scarce. Large corporations and other for-profit businesses have already understood the value of data. But nonprofits continue to lag behind.


And what’s more, if you do some digging, you’ll see that some nonprofits struggle mightily when trying to use data, while others have harnessed the power of data to improve their processes and decision making.


According to Steve MacLaughlin on npENGAGE, there are five characteristics of Data-Driven Nonprofits:


  • Natural Curiosity
  • Data Health
  • Champions at all levels
  • Data is not a foreign object
  • Data scientists are good storytellers


Natural Curiosity

The nonprofits that have seen success using data have always had people in place who were genuinely interested in what the data was saying. They are not always filled with teams of people who are skilled with statistics or analytics – just people who want to learn more about how they can improve – and how measuring results can be useful to an organization’s overall mission.


When you find these people in your organizations, hold on to them. Work with them, and try to find projects where you can start measuring your impact. Hopefully, you will be able to share this love of data with others.


Data Health

The data driven non-profit takes good care of their data. This means that the data is accurate and clean, wherever it is. Having a powerfully simple CRM helps you with this process! The importance of having healthy data cannot be overstated. All data builds upon itself and creates trends. So, if your data is bad – it will stay bad. Take some time when you are initiating your processes to be meaningful about your data’s health and accuracy. Your organization will thank you later!


Champions at all levels

Shifting an organization’s mindset to include big data is a big change. So, while, it’s necessary to have the leadership buy-in to the concept – it’s not enough. You need to have people all throughout the organization to support the change. More importantly, you need people across the organization who understand the value of the change.

This works on a few levels. On the surface, there are more people who are open to adopting those changes, making it easier to facilitate change. On another level, you have people all throughout the organization to hold the rest of the team accountable and make sure that everyone is driving towards the same goal.


Data is not a foreign object

Data should be woven into the day-to-day practice of everyone if nonprofits want to truly be driven by it. It’s can’t be a foreign object that just gets in the way of work – it should be used to enhance work. So there has to be a fundamental shift towards making data-driven decisions at every level of the organization.  It shouldn’t be a one-off tool. It should be THE tool that fuels the work.


Data scientist are good story tellers

We love telling stories in the non-profit sector. It is one of the best ways to connect our potential donors to the true impact of the work. Stories have an extraordinary way to making every nonprofit’s mission, tangible and real.


When you harness the power of data, these stories are strengthened. The biggest mistake that nonprofits make early on with data is letting the data speak for itself. While it’s still powerful, the best thing you can do is use that data to strengthen a narrative that you are already talking about. This makes your story better and helps to give your work more credibility for the reader.

The best nonprofits use data to drive their decision-making processes.



But it’s important to note that all nonprofits can do this – even the small shops. In fact, we would argue that the small shops are the one that needs this the most. Because of impact technology, there are tons of options to help your small non-profit start measuring the impact of your initiatives.


For example, understanding what emails your readers are opening, or even what content they are clicking on, because extremely important. It tells you what’s working, and what isn’t – what’s resonating with potential donors and what falls flat.


Understanding data can mean the difference between a big donation and a missed opportunity.


Ready to take the jump? Try out Keela, and see how we can make YOUR mission, possible.





About Philip Manzano

Phil is the Head of Marketing and Communications at Keela. He has worked as a communications professional within the sector at many levels: grassroots, local, regional and national. Now, he spends his time telling powerful stories of impact and is devoted to helping nonprofits do good, better.