By Sidney HallThis image is available from the United States Library of Congress‘s Prints and Photographs division under the digital ID cph.3g10074.

February 8, 2017; TechRepublic and Fast Company

What does it mean for a nonprofit to be data-informed? Many nonprofits, some with years of service under their belt, are still becoming aware of the power of big data. Data is clearly needed to track services to clients; advocate for issues with local, state and federal impact; and to identify trends and changes in almost all the programs—but what about feeding innovation?

According to The Foundation Center, based in NYC, many nonprofits are not approaching data in a “systematic way.” According to Jen Bokoff, their Director of Knowledge Services, nonprofit organizations are staffed by people who are “not naturally inclined to seek out data.”

This staffing issue is likely to see dramatic change, according to Amy Sample Ward, the CEO of Nonprofit Technology Network. According to a recent article in Fast Company, Ward identifies the role of “data scientist” as one of the top three nonprofit jobs of the future. Skill sets such as data analysis rank high in importance, but so do data visualization and asking good questions that data can help answer.

The Foundation Center seeks to advance data-driven innovation through their over 450 hubs throughout the USA. They provide three key online services to help nonprofits approach data in broader ways:

  1. The Center hosts the largest database of global grantmakers and has developed web applications that facilitate nonprofits searching for specific foundation information.
  2. The Nonprofit Collaboration Database was created as a result of the high number of nonprofits seeking collaborations within their mission focus. Collaboration in the database is defined in many ways, from combining marketing, or sharing in purchasing, to co-location and sharing staff training.
  3. Foundation Maps is a fee-based data program that offers the ability to explore data visualization on global funding and philanthropic networks.

Bokoff concludes on the role of big data for nonprofits, by stating, “The best way to advocate for and deliver on mission is with facts and examples. We believe that data is core to solving problems, but it’s not the intuitive solution to most of the actors” in the nonprofit sector.—Jeanne Allen