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TDWI Upside - Where Data Means Business

5 Steps to Creating a Data Strategy to Drive Your Nonprofit's Social Good

These five steps will help your nonprofit create a modern data strategy.

The more you know about the people you serve and the donors who support you, the more effectively you can fulfill and advance the mission of your nonprofit organization. In the modern world of targeted fundraising and effectively reaching the right people with your service, data becomes a key asset to maximize the donors and maximize the service reach.

For Further Reading:

Anatomy of a Data Strategy: From Operational Intelligence to Artificial Intelligence

How to Develop a Data Strategy for Cooperation, Not Conflict

GDPR's Impact on BI

Where do you start when it comes to what you know -- the data you have? How do you streamline that existing data? What more do you need to collect? Can there be one source of truth? Consider these five steps to develop a well-informed, well-defined data strategy for your nonprofit organization and gain an advantage.

Step 1: Define your goals

The insight from your data is effective only when aligned with broader goals of your organization. What is your vision? What do you need to know about your constituents, donors, and volunteers to help you get there?

Define a strategic plan and clear goals to help inform what data you collect. Bring together your employees, leaders, and stakeholders and engage them in discussions. Your marketing team may need different information than your fundraising team, but ultimately they are all working toward the same goal. Determine the top data priorities for your entire organization and clarify intentions for practical data usage and governance.

Step 2: Identify bottlenecks

It may be time for data democratization at your organization. Information gatekeepers can create bottlenecks, which often requires a cultural shift among employees to overcome. I've seen employees who have worked at organizations for years and served as the go-to resource for a certain data set, and it can be difficult to nurture them to take a different approach and relinquish control.

Start by defining the type of data your organization needs. Identify data sources and plan your approach to data collection, ingestion, management, storage, analysis, and governance, which includes the people managing and accessing data. Empower employees to take advantage of insights through self-service solutions and thus eliminate bottlenecks. A comprehensive data strategy enables access and consumption of data across an organization so everyone feels confident in their business intelligence.

Step 3: Know the laws and regulations

It's your ethical and legal responsibility to ensure that your organization is following the proper privacy and security measures. With so many data protection and governance laws and regulations (such as the GDPR and CCPA), it's clear that your nonprofit must pay attention to collecting and using data as well as rules about how and what data to collect and maintain.

For example, as an influencer in healthcare and social services, a client (The Epilepsy Foundation of Greater Chicago) needed a tool that followed HIPAA privacy and consent laws while gathering pertinent patient information. Working with our team, we identified an enterprise application through which patient touchpoints could be tracked and used anywhere, on any device -- and most important -- with signed consent. The result: protected patients, a protected foundation, and law-abiding data working for the greater good.

Step 4: Implement the right tools

It's essential to holistically track data -- from contact records and social services to marketing campaigns and program management. Organizations need a 360-degree view of their constituent interactions and a single source of truth for that view. Each organization can be at a different stage in data management -- some are starting from square one and some need to standardize their data and scrub duplicate systems. What data do you have and what tools do you have? Do you have the right tools and the right partners?

The marketplace is filled with effective customer experience (CX) systems that can give you these 360-degree views and your one source of truth, and there are systems integrators that can partner with you. Having clear goals aligned with your data strategy will help you select the enterprise applications and partners that are best for your organization.

Step 5: Prepare to evolve

Although you want to plan for the future, don't look too far ahead. In today's world of technology, there is no "long-term" because technology is evolving rapidly. You must be agile enough to pivot and adjust to meet changing demands and goals. Establish procedures for regular quality assurance. Be agile enough to cope and shift with the landscape. This will allow you to monitor progress and make changes as needed. Be prepared to change with the ever-changing times.

The Bottom Line

An actionable, inclusive data strategy can lead you to one source of truth, empowering you to achieve your mission and illustrate your impact to stakeholders.

About the Author

Ram Palaniappan is the senior practice director with TEKsystems Global Services, an industry leader in full-stack technology services, talent services, and real-world application. Ram joined TEKsystems Global Services in 2009 and currently heads data analytics, AI and machine learning, enterprise application, and integration service offerings. Over his 20-year career in the industry, he has focused on helping customers build intelligent, information-driven business processes and achieve greater return on investment. Ram has broad experience in enterprise architecture, product management, and customer success. You can contact the author via email or LinkedIn.

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