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Downes Murray International News

Treat your data like the treasure it truly is

Your data could be holding suprises and hidden treasure. Marisol Gutierrez  explains why . . .

Non-profit organisations are vital to making meaningful change in the world and they have significant amounts of untapped potential in their data. But why do some struggle to use data while others have successfully harnessed information to drive better decision making?

According to Steve MacLaughlin, director of analytics at Blackbaud who conducted research into this, there are five critical characteristics of successful, data-driven non-profits:
1. Natural curiosity: the best examples of people using data to drive decisions are those who have curious minds. They may not all have a background in statistics or computer science, but all of them were curious people. They want to understand why things happen and how the world works. Natural curiosity is a prerequisite for changing the status quo and data-driven non-profits empower their people to explore what’s possible.
2. Data health: the term ‘data hygiene’ rarely gets anyone excited, but the importance of data health cannot be overstated. This is not about garbage in and garbage out. It’s actually much worse than that. If you start out with bad data, then it only gets worse from there, never better. Data-driven non-profits have healthy data habits.
3. Champions at all levels: we often hear about the importance of top-down leadership to make change happen. While the support of leadership is important . . . it is not enough. The most successful data-driven non-profits have champions at all levels of the organisation, working to drive change.
4. ‘Data is not a foreign object’: these were the words of Christoph Gorder, chief water officer at charity: water. It encapsulates the mindset of highly data-driven organisations.

Data is part of the daily workflow and forms the basis for how decisions are made. Data driven non-profits embrace the use of information to accelerate change.

5. Data scientists are good storytellers: it is a mistake to believe that the data should speak for itself. A common thread among the best data scientists in the non-profit sector is that they have learned how to be good storytellers.  They are able to distil all information and influence decisions through telling stories about the hidden surprises in the data.

Data-driven non-profits are accelerating change in the world by using data to influence strategy and inform decisions that produce value and impact. All of these organisations have invested in people, process, data, and technology. But that is simply not enough.

It turns out that the secrets to success are being curious, having champions at all levels of the organisation, making data part of the daily workflow, and being good storytellers.

Some organisations still treat data as exhaust: the wasted overflow from systems that provides no value. Successful organisations focus on turning that data into information and insights
that drive better decision making. In the coming years, these characteristics will be essential to
the success of non-profit organisations around the world.

Adapted from an article on Huffington Post Marisol Gutierrez  is Communication and Partnership Manager at Downes Murray International.

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