Transform the Sector was an amazing, inspiring event! It’s not often that one is able to connect with so many great nonprofits with a passion for data at once.

One of the questions I set out to discuss at the conference was (posed in my last post) :

“This can seem like a daunting task for many organizations - rolling out new processes and infrastructure to support data driven decision making - what steps/phases have successful agencies followed in the process? What were the 'lessons learned'?”

A bit of context on my question: as a nonprofit technology partner, I talk to many agencies that have identified becoming more performance/data-driven as a goal. Sometimes it’s due to funder reporting pressure, other times it’s because the agency sees an opportunity for creating greater impact. Regardless, many of the organizations I speak with have identified this goal and sought to fulfill it through implementing new technology. The right intentions are there but they’ve skipped an important – possibly the most important - step in the process. What they’ve missed is the research design phase: they need to make sure they’re asking the right, measurable questions, and they need to understand how they should ask those questions/gather the data within the context of their programs and services.

Andrew Means, of Impact Lab and Beyond Uptake, agrees that nonprofits need to spend more time on design at the outset of a data initiative. He shared that if there’s one thing that agencies can do to help get prepared for a transformation, it’s investing in their team.

“Make sure you have the right people on your team – not necessarily a technical resource, but someone who can help you make sure you’re asking the right questions from the outset.”

He also noted that skilled resources like data analysts are in short order right now. That doesn’t mean you should give up though! There are plenty of resources that can help you build that capacity on your own team. Link to Impact and Outcome. There are also a number of consulting firms who offer services to help get nonprofits on the right track for their project.  

Number one takeaway: data-driven transformations don’t happen overnight. Be prepared to invest some time and resources in building capacity on your team and making sure you’re set up for success before you look for new technology. Technology is just a tool – it is there to support a vision, and sometimes the hardest work is fine-tuning the vision.