Data-Informed Decision Making

Yes, you have a strategic plan. Yes, you collect data for grants or program evaluation. But how do you remain focused on strategic decision making day-to-day, especially when you’re concerned with the next source of funding, preparing for tomorrow’s board meeting, planning your upcoming gala and mitigating staffing constraints?

The answer lies with a data-informed strategic business plan. We all know a good strategic plan should help to guide decision making, but the gap rests with how to adequately develop an effective strategic plan that translates into practical operations execution and tactical planning on a daily basis.

Creating a data strategy helps identify, define and track outcomes. It doesn’t require years’ worth of performance metrics or a robust data strategy (although neither will hurt). Instead, it involves a systematic process of defining the right data sets to best inform the organization’s strategy and then identifying sources for these metrics.

A comprehensive data strategy should include:

1. Relevant metrics measuring the internal and external effectiveness of the organization both forward-looking and retrospectively.

2. An actionable and practical methodology for collecting, interpreting, communicating and utilizing the data throughout the organization.

3. An iterative approach, so the organization may refine the data collection processes and application of the
information gathered.

4. Integration within all levels of the organization, ensuring each employee understands how their role feeds into the larger strategy.

With an effective data strategy in place, nonprofit staff and board leaders are able to evaluate internal processes, monitor performance of the organization and measure social impact. The data obtained should be used to assess current practices, identify priorities and develop a performance evaluation plan. Data can be invaluable in helping you make decisions large and small.

  • Does the organization need to revise internal processes to improve program effectiveness?
  • Should the organization pursue a new strategic partner to amplify its social impact?
  • Would a new revenue stream make the organization more sustainable?
  • How much staff time should we allocate to an upcoming event?

The plan is only effective if it is practical, measurable, and achievable. The end results should not only serve as a living document you can reference in times of uncertainty, it should be a document you want to use to make both the tactical and complex decisions.

While a strategic plan is important and will help guide the organization for the next three years, data-informed decision making is an iterative process that will continue to evolve with the organization.

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