Inciter | Quarantine Data Project: Four Things You Can Do Now to Be a Stronger Organization on the Other Side of This
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Quarantine Data Project: Four Things You Can Do Now to Be a Stronger Organization on the Other Side of This

At the risk of adding more peer pressure to be productive right now, I wanted to propose to those of you responsible for the data maturity of your organization (this includes CTOs, CIOs, database managers, data analysts, and other data nerds) that there ARE things you can do right now, in the middle of all this, that will make your organization stronger when it’s all over. You might be feeling like you can’t possibly move forward with anything data-related, because of uncertainty ahead. But, this could be the perfect time to tackle things you normally don’t have time for.

A month or two from now, everyone currently cleaning their garages and handling all those long put off home repair projects will look around and, if nothing else, have a cleaner, more organized home. You can do the same thing for your data. If you have data, chances are that it could use some cleaning, just like everyone’s garages.

Obviously, if you or your family are not well right now, have been laid off, or having difficulties in focusing with small children at home, garage purging and data cleaning are probably not for you. But if that isn’t you… read on.

A quarantine data project might be for you if:

  • You have data.
  • You aren’t sure how clean it is.
  • You KNOW it’s not that clean.
  • You have a backlog of “data projects” you’ve been wanting to get to.
  • There are things you’d like to learn from your data, but you haven’t had the time to analyze and explore it.

Here are four data projects you can do now to improve how you collect data, resulting in better, more targeted fundraising, more insight into your members, and more accurate reports to your board. All without investing in a new data system.

Do a data assessment

Doing a data assessment is a little like walking around your garage, looking in all the boxes, and making a list of what you have. You start with a data inventory, which allows you to document and assess all your different data sources and data sets, what’s in them, who owns them, and how often they are updated. This process can be done with a few key stakeholders in your organization, and the people in your organization who manage each data source.

Once you identify what you have and where it is, you can prioritize what information is important, think about the current resources that are required to maintain it, and determine what information you’ve been collecting but might not be using (and can therefore stop collecting, saving you time and money). Identify any data that can help you do more targeted fundraising or provide more valuable services to your members, and think about where that might come from and where you would store it. This kind of data will be valuable going forward, to help you recover from lags in fundraising or cancelled events or conferences.

Want help with this project?

Inciter is offering new clients a Data Inventory for only $500. We’ll provide a questionnaire to help you ask the right questions about all of your data, and a template to document your data sources and data integration needs. Our staff will personally guide you through the entire process, one-on-one, using these tools and make recommendations about what data you should be doing more with, what data you don’t need to collect anymore, and how your data systems could be integrated to provide you with more valuable information.

Dump and analyze your data to see what’s there

This project is like emptying out your junk drawer in the kitchen. You’ve got a treasure trove of information in your members database, your CRM, your donor or volunteer database, and your payment systems. This may be a great time for you to dig around in it and see how good it is.

You will be looking to find out how complete these data sets are, what your missing data patterns are, and where your data validation practices are failing you. You can easily do this using Excel by looking at your spreadsheets or even performing simple descriptive analysis, or you can use a more powerful data preparation tool like our favorite, Trifacta.

Want help with this project?

Check out Kristen Halsey’s recent webinar on cleaning data with Excel. To get the recording, drop us a line. Or take a peek at Trifacta or one of the many other powerful data cleaning tools that are available.

Ask and answer deeper questions with your data

If you have data, you’re pretty sure it’s complete and clean (or, you completed data project #2 to clean it), and you have a chance this month to dig into it a little, you can see what more there is there that you can learn from it.

What are the demographics of your volunteers, members, or donors? Who gives the most money? Which members are taking advantage of your offerings? Which offerings are most popular and bring in the most money? You can do this using Excel, the reporting features of our data system, or something fancier like R or SPSS if you have that in house.

Want help with this project?

Check our Kristen Halsey’s webinar recording on analyzing data with Excel. To get the recording, drop us a line. If programming is your thing, you can look into R Studio, a free, open-source tool for analyzing even the largest datasets.

To plan for the future, explore places where your data could be more integrated.

Do you have five recycling bins, four mail receptacles, and three different places where you put your gym clothes? So inefficient. Now might be a good time to map out where there are opportunities to bring your data together to answer your most important questions. Development staff are using Razor’s Edge, finance staff are using Quickbooks, and you’re using Novi to manage your members. You can’t put all that in one system, but sometimes you need to ask questions that can only be answered by pulling data from multiple sources.

This project is more like putting in a new wall or upgrading your kitchen. You will have completed a data assessment, as we discussed in the first project idea. You will have inventoried and mapped out all your data so you know where it is and the structure that it’s stored in. You will need to model the data model, creating an organized documentation of the elements of a data set and their relationships. You will need to think about whether you have a “key” in each data set that you want to integrate, or a unique identity for each person you want to connect across your data sets.

If you have the time and expertise in-house, you can ultimately model the structure, format, and relationships, and design a process to integrate it without using any additional systems. And, if you do decide to use or develop a warehouse or other data integration system, you will be prepared.

Want help with this project?

Check out the webinar that Jacob Joseph did earlier this month. He talked about best practices for integrating data systems with examples using Excel, but the webinar is applicable to any system you are working with.

If you have been feeling stuck, because budgets, revenue, or the entire universe feels uncertain, hopefully this gave you some ideas about things you can do now. If you can clean, organize, and inventory your data now, you will be ready to move forward when the world has calmed down a bit.

Taj Carson

Dr. Taj Carson is the CEO and Founder of Inciter. She has more than 20 years’ experience helping nonprofits manage their data. She has a Master’s degree in Information Visualization from the Maryland Institute College of Art, a certificate in technology entrepreneurship from the University of Maryland-Baltimore County, and a Ph.D. in Sociology from the University of Delaware in 2000.

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