If you keep up with trends in business (and you’re reading this so you probably do), it’s hard to ignore the movement toward organizations big and small using their data to improve every area of their business.

But, as someone who has worked closely with non-governmental organizations (NGOs), I know from personal experience that even the minimal resources needed to start digging through data are not always available. And that’s a shame because NGOs and other organizations in the not-for-profit (NFP) sector sit on mountains of data that can not only allow them to do their work better but also change the world. Literally.

I know, I know. It’s easy to be overwhelmed by the prospect of beginning a data project at your NGO. Especially if you have limited knowledge of how to work with data, what data your organization has, and what you want to get out of this project. Have no fear! I and the rest of the data experts here at Sisense are here to help.

Data For Good

Getting Started

Before you jump right into your organization’s data and start trying to dig out insights, you need to do a little legwork. You can find detailed terminology, questions to ask, and a full-blown checklist in our complete guide to NGOs and Data. First, though, let’s start with an overview of what you’re in for as you embark on this data journey.

Step One: Recon

Don’t skip this step! Going through a recon process will set you up for success in your data efforts. During this step, you’ll need to think about who the stakeholders are in this project, what they need, and why they need it. Sitting down with these stakeholders and understanding what data they’d like to see, even if you’re not sure you can meet all their requests, will give you a direction.

I recommend starting with a group of stakeholders who have needs that overlap. Start small. Once you nail this process the first time around you can move on to others. And trust me, once word gets around that there is access to insights from organizational data, people will want it!

Step Two: Define

After you have the broader level conversations with stakeholders and decide where to focus first, you’ll need to start getting into the nitty-gritty. Sit down with stakeholders one more time and think about what the main questions are that you want to answer. What KPIs can you use to answer those questions? What data do these stakeholders know exists and where does it live?

You might find that all the data your organization has sits in different Excel files owned by various people. Or, you might find out that there’s data in Excel and a CRM that need to be combined together (don’t worry, we’ll tackle that coming up). Either way, the more detail you can gather about where the data lives, the better.

Step Three: Identify

Now that you know where the data lives, you should gain access to view it and see what you’ve got to work with. To what level can each of the sources be analyzed? Do you need to clean the data before it can be properly analyzed?

Data clean up isn’t as hard as it sounds. It’s the process of preparing data for analysis by modifying incorrect, incomplete, irrelevant, duplicated, or improperly formatted data. Let’s say, for example, you have two different Excel files and each has a column for “date”. If one Excel file has the date column formatted “Month/Day/Year” and the other has it formatted as “Day/Month/Year” you’ll want to pick one of the formats and “clean” the Excel that doesn’t fit your chosen format so that everything matches.

Step Four: Connect

With your sources all cleaned up, you’re ready to start understanding how your different siloed sources relate to one another. Which sources are dependent on other sources or need to be updated when other sources change? How does all of this data interact?

For example, if aid requests increase by 8% this quarter which fields in your spreadsheet need to automatically increase by 8% to account for this change? Probably quarterly budget fields, fundraising target fields, and resource-related fields. What happens when you add 8% to these fields? Hint – now you’re starting to see some insights!

Step Five: Verify

You did it! You’re well on your way to working with data and gain some insights that can help streamline your organization. In the heat of all the excitement, you may forget this step but don’t! Verifying your results is key to making sure all your work is actually functional.

Have a co-worker check your work by spot checking your Excel functions. Ask yourself and your stakeholders if the results of your work are what was expected or within reason and if they make sense. After all, insights without accuracy aren’t so helpful.

Don’t Stop Here

Have you been bitten by the data bug? There’s a lot to learn! Every NFP has a unique mission and using data to support and accelerate that mission is imperative in today’s world.

If you want to get started learning more, including popular data terminology, NFP sector examples, and a full data prep checklist specifically for NFPs you can see our full guide here (it’s totally free- no form filling required!). We’ll continue to expand these resources with more training and deeper dives into specific topics so you can become the data expert in your NFP.

Data For Good
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