13 Ways Data Is Changing How Nonprofit Leaders Conduct Business

Data used in the right way has the ability to change how a business operates for the better. The insight and perspective data offers can give organizations like nonprofits the power to make more effective decisions.

As leaders of nonprofit organizations, the members of Forbes Nonprofit Council have firsthand experience using data to make changes. Below, they share how data is changing the way they conduct business and how other leaders can leverage data in their own organizations.

1. Determining Where To Focus Time And Resources

I can’t live without data. How do we operate and adapt our services to the current environment? How can we engage our supporters and raise funds? Data helps me make the right decisions for my team and the people we serve. It shows me what strategies are working and where I need to focus my time and resources. Being data-driven is a daily discipline, but better outcomes make it a worthwhile endeavor. – Kristen Jaarda, American Council on Gift Annuities

2. Offering Clarity In Decision Making

What’s that saying? “Lies, darn lies and statistics”? Data is so important in decision making and it has to be treated as a very important input, maybe even the leading one. And yet, one can’t forget the emotional nature of some issues and what it brings to the debate. If you’re measuring what matters rather than what is easy to measure, data can offer clarity and direction. Use it! – Magdalena Nowicka Mook, ICF (International Coach Federation)

Forbes Nonprofit Council is an invitation-only organization for chief executives in successful nonprofit organizations. Do I qualify?


3. Driving Business Planning

Data adequately collected, used and presented informs daily functions for staff, mission and vision work for boards and solid community investment decisions for funders. Recognize that the critical role of data has changed how we do business. Data drives initial planning as we consider what information is essential for whom, what process is required and how it will be leveraged. – Bev Wenzel, The ROCK Center for Youth Development

4. Visualizing The Whole Picture

Data has changed the way we conduct business over time because it gives me a way to visualize what my business has accomplished, what my business is currently doing, when trends changed and what went wrong with a strategy that didn’t work. It also helps me be able to better inform my team by having the stats to back up why we would try a new strategy, for example. – Gloria Horsley, Open to Hope

5. Gauging Achievements

The social sector has no meaningful way of measuring success, relying instead on a snapshot from random costly control studies, or worse, measuring inputs. We can do better. We’re experimenting with customer-focused measurement methodologies and organizational culture assessments that offer a much more exciting path forward to understand personal transformation and measure nonprofit effectiveness. – Evan Feinberg, Stand Together Foundation

6. Understanding Patrons

We have continued to produce research reports that truly tell the story of our patrons: the modern learner. In doing so, it has revealed fascinating data, like the fact that more than one out of four college students are parents. We’d already known that college students are diversifying and need more support, but that data really solidified why Chegg corporate expanded into skills a few years ago. – Lila Thomas, Chegg

7. Creating More Effective Donor Messaging

In the nonprofit space, it’s important to know what kinds of messages are resonating with donors and which ones are falling flat. Collecting, analyzing and, most importantly, using metrics on engagement, click-through rates and donor conversion is paramount. By running a savvy, data-first operation, nonprofits can reduce their marketing costs and put more money where it matters—into programs. – Robin Ganzert, American Humane

8. Measuring Inputs And Outcomes

Data provides insight into a moment and can also identify stakeholder behaviors. Like their for-profit colleagues, nonprofits should also take advantage of any tools that afford us the chance to measure inputs and outcomes. Data allows us to review ROI and effectiveness. We use data to review what is working when communicating with our customers, improving our communication strategies. – Aaron Alejandro, Texas FFA Foundation

9. Seeing Trends

Data sets (and the insights we gain from analyzing them) allow us to see trends and make informed decisions like never before. We can see how our constituents interact with digital content and refine messaging to ensure that not only do they get more valuable information from us, but we can also move them to action much more quickly and effectively. – Victoria Burkhart, The More Than Giving Company

10. Initiating Model Changes

If our support to the field does not result in increased teacher performance and retention so that all children learn at acceptable rates, we initiate changes to our model. If our leadership does not create increased feelings of efficacy among our staff, we must serve our employees in a different way. These are all measurable outcomes that educational sector leaders can hold themselves accountable to. – Desmond Blackburn, New Teacher Center

11. Informing And Changing Mindsets

I use data to both inform and transform. Data points can aid in changing a person’s mindset toward a particular belief or bias. When you share demographic information on the compensation of Black women in the workplace, for example, it changes the belief that everyone is paid equitably and challenges the notion that their male counterparts “deserve” to be paid more. – Kimberly Lewis, Goodwill Industries of East Texas, Inc.

12. Increasing Support

Leveraging the power of data is a game changer for advancing philanthropic support. Simply put, there are too many potential partners for any resource-constrained nonprofit to effectively engage. However, data provides insights on interests, areas of affinity, financial capacity, psychographics and past charitable behavior to drive focus and to support engaging optimal potential partners. – Betsy Chapin Taylor, FAHP, Accordant

13. Providing Actionable Insight

Data governance, integrity and insights have never been more important to the nonprofit sector. The pandemic has forced NGOs to examine their infrastructure supporting data management. The power of understanding your data, the story it was telling pre-pandemic and the story it is telling you now provide actionable insights for leadership to maximize outcomes for mission delivery and fundraising. – Sterrin Bird, Salesforce

The Tycoon Herald