Collecting, tracking and managing nonprofit data are important ways to measure and quantify the good work your organization does for your community. Tracking data empowers you and your stakeholders to understand how your services are affecting your program participants or constituents. Moreover, when you have a handle on your data, you are better equipped to make educated and strategic decisions about what comes next for your programs, and your organization.
Here are five ideas to guide your next steps with nonprofit data collection, tracking and analysis:
1. Track Data That Will Lead to More Funding
The data you track should directly lead to more funding. Funding, either from federal or local government sources or from private foundations, is the backbone of nonprofits and their operations. After all, there can be no service delivery without funding to back it up. The key to recurring and pervasive funding is collecting and reporting on data that your funders want to see. They are not interested in just outputs – they want to see the outcomes that are associated with them. Look at your outputs and determine how you can weave data points together to build a picture of progress and change.
2. Track Data That Will Prove Your Impact
Impact can be hard to quantify. In a way, it can feel like trying to measure the galaxy – it is just so big. In our smoking cessation example, the goal would be that the clients should exit or graduate from your nonprofit’s course, because they do not need your services any longer. So, what is your organization doing to ensure that the people in the program have the tools to not take up smoking again, and how are you viewing your program as a way to solve an overarching problem in the community? Find data that shows that you are not only solving temporary issues, but also you are also making lasting change in the community you are serving.
3. Track Data That Will Tell Your Community’s Stories
Helping your program participants and solving an overarching problem prevalent in your community are the reasons you started your nonprofit in the first place. It only makes sense to track data that will highlight why they need your services, how your organization is supporting them in the short term, and how you are transforming people’s lives for the better over the long term. In addition, although the vast majority of your data should be quantitative, this type of data that fuels storytelling can be qualitative. Your clients are real people, and it is important for you to share their real stories so that you can show how your services are truly changing their lives throughout the course of their participation in your programs.
4. Track Data That Will Help You Understand Your Setbacks
Let us face it – your nonprofit is going to face challenges as you seek to effect lasting change. It is normal to have periods where nothing seems to be going the way you expected. It is important to track data during those times to see what is contributing to these setbacks so that you will have a better idea of what you can do to avoid them in the future. Do not be afraid to document things that have not gone according to plan. Your funders and stakeholders are interested in the good and the bad – the truth.
5. Track Data That Will Allow You to See Your Organization End-to-End
Your organization should, at the very least, be able to see your operations from an end-to-end point of view. That means that you can see the entire journey that a program participant goes through from the start of their participation to when they exit. That also means that you can see all the inner workings of each program you are running, how they are serving your clients and how they roll up through your organization as a whole. Tracking this data is the only way you can truly understand what is working over the course of time, what you can improve, and how you can expand your good work.
These are by no means the only types of data your organization could be tracking, but, this is a great place for you to start or check off when you’re making sure your organization is tracking what it needs to in order to get more funding, more resources, and more support going into the future.

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