How Not-for-Profit Organisations Can Use Data to Support Their Strategy

If you can’t prove it, then it didn’t happen.
As a not-for-profit, you will understand that collecting and managing data is very important. Most funders will ask you to provide proof of your impact. If you’re not prepared this can cause problems in the future. Data collection is an important part of your not-for-profit’s strategy, but it can be difficult to know where to start.

In this article we will investigate the following:

  • Why Data is Important for Not-for-Profit Organisations
  • The Types of Data to Collect
  • What Data Not-for-Profits Should Collect
  • Using Data in Your Strategy
  • The Risks that Come with Collecting Data

Why Data is Important for Not-for-Profit Organisations

All too often, organisations deliver services and try to make a difference without adequate planning. Neglecting to collect data can lead to problems such as:

  • Ineffective or ill-informed operational decision-making,
  • Ineffective use of resources,
  • Mission drift,
  • The absence of vital evidence of your impact for use in future funding bids,
  • The inability to give data to funders, commissioners, and partners which you are legally contracted to provide.

If you can't check if your activity is helping you reach your goals, it can be extremely difficult to identify what is working and what isn't. Adequate data collection will help your organisation take the right management decisions.

Not-for-profit organisations can use this data in several ways, including:

  • Applying for Grants: Most funders will ask you to provide proof of your impact. If your not-for-profit has data that can effectively show this, this will make your application stand out.
  • Donor and Beneficiary Engagement. Collecting feedback will help your organisation better understand how to interact with supporters and beneficiaries.
  • Admin. Organised and accurate data will support the day-to-day running of your not-for-profit organisation.
  • Fundraising. Whether your organisation is targeting individual donors or corporate sponsorships, efficient data collection will help inform your fundraising strategy.

What Data Not-for-Profits Should Collect

Data comes in many different forms. It's important to identify the type of data you want and how to collect and analyse this before you start. There are two main categories of data:
Qualitative Data: Refers to information that cannot be counted, measured, or easily expressed using numbers. This often takes the form of images, interviews, or case studies.
Quantitative Data: Refers to statistics, counts, or numbers where each data set has a unique numerical value.

Not-for-profits should collect data that is necessary for their operations and any extra information that may be useful in their fundraising efforts. This typically includes information such as:

  • Personal data. This can be of supporters, donors, volunteers, and beneficiaries. This may include names, contact information, and date of birth.
  • Financial data. This includes payment information and donation history.
  • Marketing preferences. Whether the individual has given your organisation consent for marketing.
  • Event attendance and volunteer history.
  • Feedback from donors, volunteers, beneficiaries, and others who interact with your organisation.

Using Data in Your Strategy

Monitoring and Evaluation are how not-for-profits can include data in their fundraising strategy. Funders require you to track (monitor) how you have used funding and assess (evaluate) the impact of this against the promises made within your initial funding application. Being able to prove that you can use funding well is also important to building a strong track record and securing other funds in the future.

Monitoring is usually the easiest part. Essential factors can include expenditure, delivery of specific actions by date, and participation in your project. You can subdivide participation by characteristics such as gender. All of this is easily tracked using simple tools like registers. However, if you don't plan this before delivery starts, it can cause problems later.

Evaluation is more complex and is about what you have achieved. This requires a before & after comparison. Approaches include:

  • using statistics,
  • doing surveys or tracking specific data,
  • simple interview case studies (using video or audio recordings can be a great way to do this).

Inputs, Outputs, and Outcomes
Inputs: i.e., what resources you have consumed to deliver a service such as money, staff time etc...
Outputs (your activity): i.e., the number of things you have done or delivered such as how many sessions you have provided or how many people have attended these.
Outcomes (your impact): i.e. what's different as a result such as how people's lives have been changed

The Risks that Come with Collecting Data

This data can be valuable for running your not-for-profit, but unfortunately, this data is also attractive to hackers. Sensitive information can be the target of cyber-attacks and outdated security measures can put your organisation at risk. Steps must be taken to ensure your organisation complies with relevant data protection laws.

We’re collaborating with @The Cyber Resilience Centre for West Midlands to educate organisations on the threats they face and how they can protect themselves. The Cyber Resilience Centre for West Midlands offers free membership for charities. For more information on data protection for charities and a free membership please visit:

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