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Nonprofit Data Challenges - Part 1

Nonprofit Data Challenges - Part 1 Photo by Slava Bowman on Unsplash

In our informational society, the amount of data created by not-for-profit (Nfp) organizations continues to grow exponentially.

From both internal sources that cover mobile devices, retail and websites to external sources like Just Giving or social media, many NfPs are generating data faster than they can govern it. The problem is, as organizations have evolved and grown organically, data value is not maximized because it is mostly fragmented across systems.

In addition to data, a rising number of stakeholders and donors are demanding more timely, specific and different information.

Both locally and globally, NfP organizations are being bombarded with guidelines, standards, principles, behaviors and other codes of practice. GDPR was perhaps the moment of truth, but there are further mandates, like that from the International Aid Transparency Initiative (IATI), which requires data from the third sector to improve the transparency of development and humanitarian resources.

And internally, managers are asking for information such as customer transactional details that span across multiple CRM, ERP and operational systems.

Your staff may come and go, your processes and systems constantly change, and all the while as your data steadily accumulates, so do the potential risks and opportunities. This is a big deal, especially when safeguarding concerns and reputational management issues in the press or social media have such a large impact on funding.

It is therefore vital that data is transparent, ethical and accountable, but there are problems. The chair of the PR and Communication Association’s Charity and Not-for-Profit Group said, “The sheer volume of information and guidance that trustees and staff have had to wade through is a barrier to compliance and unnecessarily bureaucratic”.

The situation is not going to change. As a result of bureaucracy, charitable organizations are looking in the rear-view mirror and spending too much time on data administration when, really, they should be looking ahead at how best to serve beneficiaries. So how do we redress the balance?

Challenge to opportunity

Let’s take a breath here. Clearly, the answer is providing the right information by easier means. As a technology vendor, you may expect me to say the immediate answer is technology – well yes, but not right away and it is only part of the solution. Technology vendors and their customers alike often spend a great deal of time discussing networks, servers, cloud technology, websites, apps, interoperability with 3rd party web services, CRM, HR and finance systems. But the common denominator, data, is often ignored or is just an afterthought.

It is solid data governance (think structured data) that should be the initial priority. It offers a framework to make sure our entire environment meets our needs today and drives our organizations, and the technology that underpins it, with greater focus. 

Check out part 2 of this blog for our steps to successful data governance that can turn a challenge into an opportunity.

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