(Chapter 2 of 5)
Welcome to the second in a series of five posts on taking a new approach to thinking about nonprofit capacity building. You can view the first installment here: Capacity Building Like Uber: Understanding What Data You Should Capture.
If you’re a nonprofit, you’re probably working on (or at least thinking about) taking your mission to the next level of maturity so it can survive into the future. In that sense, you are working on and thinking about capacity building. In this series, we’re looking at Uber and others for clues and lessons on how to implement a closed loop feedback system for your mission — a system of continuous improvement based on work-a-day data already flowing through your operations.
In today’s post, we’re looking for ways to capture and store the data. We’re striving to learn about the mission-critical importance of swallowing that big horse pill called “consolidation” when it comes to data storage — and taking a look at democratizing data collection in everyday processes.
Uber, Amazon, Netflix and others have it made when it comes to collecting the data they need. They have apps and commerce sites that collect all the data in the course of service consumption. Their data is collected on a distributed entry model and happens automatically by nature of their clients using their apps. They have made data collection the foundation for everything they do. They have democratized the capture of data so effectively that it feeds directly back into their services to make them better in real time.
Of course, at first, it may be a stretch to translate this into what you do in your mission. Naturally, you will likely have to approach this a little differently. But if you first grasp the concept that data — mundane daily data — can be foundational to everything you do and influence operations in near-real-time, you will be at a great starting point for truly building capacity.
Don’t worry about boiling the ocean right now. Like most big jobs, if you break it up into manageable pieces, you can make progress. So, thanks to our first post, you already have a better idea about what kinds of data you should be collecting. Now let’s look at the next piece of the job, capturing and storing data. While this may be the toughest piece, it is absolutely critical to get your arms around this.
CONSOLIDATE DATA STORAGE
Nonprofits can speed the path to leveraging data if they can force a change in team behavior when it comes to everyday communication, operational collaboration, and the storage of digital assets, i.e. emails, files, folders, tasks, publications, contact records, etc. If you can’t get them all into a single system, try to consolidate as much as possible. Here are some things to consider:
- If your CRM has an email marketing feature, stop using a spot solution.
- If you must use a spot solution for email marketing, it would be ideal if it pulled directly from your CRM database, and if the opens, clicks, and bounces flowed into the CRM as well — or is easily joined there for reporting.
- If your board portal isn’t helping, shut it down.
- If your staff falls back to using email when they should be using your CRM or communication system — force a behavior change — OR — take advantage of your CRM’s email integration features or email integration add-ons (most of them can do this).
- If you have multiple member databases, consolidate into one — and shut the others down. This can be painful as you’ll need to identify and purge duplicate records and make sure you’re not losing valuable metadata in the member database to be shut down.
- Get technical advice and help. If you don’t already have a trusted I.T. staff or technical advisor, ask your web master or other colleagues in your town for referrals. It may make sense to have a high-level audit of your technology before determining the best path.
These could be difficult decisions, but the payback for being able to leverage centralized data in near real time can be huge. We’ll talk about how to leverage the data in a later post, but for now — know that the more centralized your data, the better.
DEMOCRATIZE DATA COLLECTION
This one can be hard to fathom at first — and it’s a little self-serving because we here at Cureo make this possible. What we mean by “democratize” is you should distribute data collection to every possible interactor in your mission. Not just employees, but volunteers, board members, partners, i.e. all constituents.
It would be great if you had your own app, and every single thing about your operation was managed on that app. All of your connections were to download it, learn to use it, and continue to use it for every interaction and business transaction with you. However, that’s not going to happen.
Just imagine asking the CEO of your big local company who sits on your board to exclusively use some application for all interactions with you — and that same app handles all interaction with all other constituents for various purposes. It does not work. This is why board portals have failed so widely in the nonprofit sector. People have day jobs and their own software to worry about. No matter their good intentions, they’re not going to use your apps.
However, you can democratize data collection by cleverly integrating interactions with email and via your website directly into a central system. Ultimately, there is no way to build capacity like Uber if you are requiring a few people to pound hours-old or days-old or weeks-old data into your CRM or other system. You must democratize data collection and make it accessible to everyone. Here are some questions to ask yourself that can help move you in the direction of setting up a business that democratizes data collection:
Is every email sent and replied to by every staff member to and from every constituent captured and tagged in central place to the constituent? Or are these emails all trapped in your email system?
- Do you have a record of email opens by constituent — for every type of email, i.e. not just for marketing emails?
- Do you have a record of file opens (downloads) by constituent?
- Do you have a record of meetings attended? Events attended? By constituent?
- Do you have a record action-items completed by constituent?
- Do you have an interaction rating (score) on every constituent?
- Can you roll up interaction or engagement scores into contexts such as finance committee, selection committee, board of directors, opiate task force, etc.?
- Can you evaluate engagement of constituents as well as their employer as a source of volunteers to determine how best to request volunteer talent for your next initiative or board opening?
- Can you track referrals from VIPs such that you know how to maximize VIP referrals when you need them, i.e. for new donors, board members, filling key employee vacancies, etc.
These questions are just the tip of the iceberg. We have not even begun talking about questions such as: Do you receive system-generated advice suggesting improvements and new connections based on your work data? With this kind of question, we start to touch on what is the ultimate goal, i.e. getting better iteratively and constantly at your mission based on actionable data that is captured in the course of doing business and centralized (consolidated) as well as possible. In other words, you can begin thinking about the reality of your own closed-loop feedback system.
Here at Cureo, this stuff is our passion. If you want to discuss this or any related topic, we would love to talk. Don’t hesitate to contact us if you’re interested.
In the next chapter, we’ll address Accessing and digesting the data — What’s the point if you can’t leverage the data? We’re not really talking about 1990’s-era reporting, but about leveraging data as feedback for continuous improvement in real time. Stay tuned…
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