Debunking the term ‘Data-based decision making’ for Nonprofits


The phrase “data-based decision making” has woven its way through seemingly every industry and every functional area within, and nonprofit organizations are no exception.  A standard leadership response to the inquiry about whether or not the organization bases its decisions on solid, proven data is almost universally affirmative.

What many leaders consider appropriate data upon which to base decisions is often no more than anecdotal information filtered through years of program and industry experience.  Nothing will ever replace that contemplative analysis, but in today’s fast-passed world with data beaming everywhere, filtering data into meaningful information is more than a desired skillset, it is a mandate!

These mandates come at you from every direction, and no one direction is more important than the other, and most of us do not have the time to study reams data in order to deliver timely, accurate, and meaningful information to all constituents.

The data you use to make organization-wide decisions must always surround institutional purpose:  why do you exist?  How do you know you are meeting and improving on that purpose?  Once you determine the metrics that always guide toward purpose (check back to the blog in April for “3 Ways to Choose Mission-Focused Metrics”), your sources of data are critical.

Metrics are not the highest priority for some, and that is perfectly normal, but when the priority slips, so often does the timeliness and accuracy of the data recorded.  Finding a way for the person responsible for the data input to participate in interpreting the data, might give that person the ownership we need them to have in order to secure timely data.

The challenge for you from this blog is to think about, or better yet, have a conversation with your team about what metrics truly define your mission progress.  For example, grades are not the only measure of student achievement, maybe it is grade level reading improvement.  If you serve meals to the needy, does the number of meals define your purpose, or might the number and quantity of food donations indicate the community’s engagement with your mission.  There are infinite possibilities of data you can gather.  Gather meaningful metrics that why you do what you do – not just how much of it you do.

By Matt Spuck, Business Intelligence Practice Manager for JMT Consulting Group, a national consulting firm serving the needs of nonprofit organizations in the US.

CATEGORIES: Best Practices