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From working with hundreds of organizations seeking to make their mission a reality, we’ve observed a common thread—the strategic use of data. However, this skill comes naturally to only a lucky few. For most teams, reliably collecting, understanding, and applying data takes time and dedicated attention. Regardless of the size of your organization, having a strong data practice can offer many kinds of strategic benefits, including:

  • Enabling fundraising or earned revenue growth
  • Contributing your core product or service(s)
  • Driving improvements in internal operations and management confidence

Fortunately, the journey to creating a data-mature organization is simple. We’ve identified five critical aspects to data maturity for social mission organizations: Having a Clear Impact Strategy, Strong Habits for Data Collection and Analysis, User-Friendly Data Systems, Team Data Literacy, and a Culture of Learning. In this blog, we delve into each of these in a bit more depth and provide a quiz you can use to assess these aspects for your own organization.

1. Clear Impact Strategy

An organization’s journey towards data maturity begins with a clear impact strategy. This foundational element involves describing your theory of change by outlining your target population, the problems you aim to solve for them, and the outcomes (meaningful changes in knowledge, attitude, skills, aspirations, or conditions) you wish to influence. Building off this, your impact strategy also names the questions you need to answer to test your theory of change, and the key metrics you will need to monitor to understand whether things are going as you planned. A well-defined impact strategy guides your data collection efforts and helps direct your limited analysis time towards answering your team’s most important questions.

2. Strong Habits for Data Collection and Analysis

Data collection and analysis are not just periodic activities but habits that need to be ingrained in your organization’s DNA. From demographic information to information about the scale of your activities, stakeholder feedback, and information about knowledge or behavior change, every piece of data that is collected should be aligned with your impact strategy. Regularly reviewing appropriate summaries of this data across various functions and at various levels in your organization helps make sure everyone has the information they need to make informed decisions.

3. User-Friendly Data Systems

The best data strategies are supported by user-friendly systems that make data accessible and actionable. On the other side, a good data strategy can be thwarted by unfriendly, duplicative, or poorly designed data systems. Whether your organization leverages sophisticated databases or simply a well-organized spreadsheet, the key is efficiency and ease of use. Your organization will need user-friendly data systems to support program management, fundraising, volunteer management, and potentially other functions depending on your mission and operating model. And your organization should clearly define who is responsible for maintaining these data systems, updating features, and monitoring data quality, so that they continue to evolve as your team grows.

4. Team Data Literacy

Data literacy is a critical skill for all team members, from front-line staff to senior management. Data literacy does not require that everyone become a social scientist or an analyst—far from it. Simply put, data literacy means making sure that team members are not afraid of data, and that they have the skills, knowledge, and confidence to use data in ways that are appropriate given their role. Data literacy means having both a general understanding of how to collect, interpret, and use data as well as a specific understanding of what data your team collects and why. Helping team members build this understanding will help them interpret information, draw insights, and apply them to their work effectively.

5. Culture of Learning

Finally, a culture of learning ties the four practices above together by embedding data in the way your team collaborates. This means using data not just to confirm what you already know, but to challenge assumptions and explore new possibilities. A culture of learning is built on several practices of good management that are commonly known but are sometimes hard to do: investing in skill-building, funding data and learning work adequately, holding staff accountable for results, and being open to external evaluations when the time is right. Your goal is to build a culture that values continuous improvement and innovation and uses data as a tool towards that end.

The Journey Forward

At this stage, you might be thinking “Data Maturity sounds great, but isn’t realistic given the constraints that my team faces every day.” While you might be on to something, we’ve seen tiny nonprofits that excel at data maturity, while large and well-resourced agencies struggle. Regardless of your organization’s size or resources, it is important to remember that data maturity is a journey that your organization can make progress on with minimal time and effort.

By assessing these five key areas, social sector organizations can identify the areas that are most important to focus on right now to make meaningful progress. To help you with this, Corona Insights has published a Data Maturity Quiz that allows you to rate your organization in each of these dimensions and create a thoughtful action plan for how to bolster your team’s data maturity. To access the quiz, click here.