By Justin McCord
The percentage of companies that report being data-driven is shrinking. According to a recent survey, 31% of firms surveyed say they are data-driven. That’s down from 32.4% in 2018 and 37.1% in 2017.
Meanwhile, 87.8% of executives report having a greater urgency to invest in data-driven initiatives. So, marketers are talking more about data, but we’re losing confidence in creating a data culture. The same study showed that 93% identify people and processes as obstacles to forming a data culture.
I find that this is true in both the commercial and nonprofit spaces.
Nonprofits have historically been resource-deficient compared to their commercial peers, anchored by public perceptions of overhead and waning trust in philanthropy. Add to this a trend of weakening retention of those who contribute to nonprofits, and data regulations such as the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA).
Now is the time for nonprofits to commit to forging a data culture, which starts with instituting a data governance construct. Here’s how:
1. Stop talking about big data. In fact, wipe out every data-related buzz term from your conference rooms and planning meetings. If you ask me, there’s no greater buzzkill to strategy than buzzwords.
2. Consider data your biggest business asset. For nonprofits, this means the data you have on those who have engaged with you — volunteered or donated — is central to your organizational value. This asset can help you to centralize data governance to strategically drive marketing efforts.
3. Create a data strategy task force. If you’re going to create a data culture, you must first seed the culture among key influencers. Start with a cross-functional team that can work together to build shared practices for data.
4. Identify your data management practices. Many organizations do not have documented data management practices or business rules. Instead, the rules live in a single employee’s documents or, even worse, a single employee’s head. Proactivity in identifying data management practices will help you break down silos and extend the shared practices so that everyone owns the processes and approach.
5. Build a road map for data management optimization. With documented practices built collaboratively, your task force will also likely identify areas of need. Support their work by putting resources against the areas of need. In other words, reinforce the commitment to data culture by funding optimizations that are well-planned.
6. Make data strategy the hero. Avoid common pitfalls for strategic planning, like founder’s syndrome, “we’ve always done it that way” thinking and pigeon-holing data as a function of your IT team. When data strategy is the hero, strategic planning includes a collaborative discussion on what data you’re going to measure, where you’re going to store the data and how you’re going to use this data for future marketing efforts.
7. Share. Workplace culture includes company vision, values, norms, systems, symbols, language, assumptions, beliefs and habits. If your pursuit and goal is a data culture, simply put the word “data” in front of each of those elements: data values, data norms, data symbols and language, data habits. This isn’t a one-time side project. Forging a data culture is an iterative, behavioral commitment that requires constant collaboration and sharing.
There are plenty of resources to help you on your journey to forging a data culture. A few of my favorite resources include the Nonprofit Technology Network (NTEN), which offers a free benchmarking assessment (RKD Group is a member of NTEN); Bloomerang, which offers free resources ranging from webinars to guides to help steer nonprofit data management practices; and content by Tom Davenport and members of the Stanford Social Innovation Review team that regularly offers insights about data, analytics and innovation in nonprofit marketing.