You know that great feeling of accomplishment you get after collecting piles of data about your program? “This is great!” you say, “Now I’ll finally be able to show that my program is actually (insert your impact phrase here: helping people find jobs, helping youth graduate from high school, etc.). But before you dive into analyzing, stop and ask yourself a few questions that might dramatically affect the way you look at your data:

  1. Is it reliable? So often we see nonprofits make the mistake of collecting unreliable data. Consider if your data were collected AND documented in an accurate way. Were you giving out a survey in English to people who may not speak English very well? Were you asking youth personal questions that they may not answer honestly? Are staff collecting data consistently? All these situations could influence the reliability of your data.
  2. What is it telling me? This may seem obvious, but here’s where you need to pay close attention. Look for themes or common threads in your data and don’t dismiss those outliers (the data points that just don’t seem to match with the other ones). Two people think that my training was a complete waste of time (outliers). Most people think the food that we offer in the food pantry doesn’t meet their needs (theme).
  3. Why? Here is where you dig in. Answering why can add a layer to the data that goes way beyond the numbers. Bring in additional data – maybe you compare your attendance log with your satisfaction survey to find out who was in the room. Maybe the two people who didn’t like your training thought they were signing up for an advanced training and received a beginner’s course instead. Maybe your survey translation was poorly done. Thinking about what else could be influencing your results can help you make critical changes to your data collection methods that will help increase the accuracy of your findings and ultimately, help you demonstrate your impact.

And a bonus question: Now what? This is where the action comes in. Don’t get stuck feeling like you didn’t make any progress with your data or that your information is completely inaccurate. Create tangible action steps that will drive your data practice forward and bring you closer to making data-driven decisions. Maybe you will hire a professional translator, or maybe you will add a more detailed description to your training website. And if anyone questions your rationale for making changes, you’ll have a perfectly good explanation for why.

Here’s a tip before you get started: Get others involved – if you can’t answer all these questions, who else do you need to talk to? Your program coordinator? Volunteerism director? Instructors? Talk to staff members who will give you the most insight into your data.

Need some support? Feel free to schedule a free 45-minute consultation with someone from our team of experts to learn more.