Data offers nonprofits a means of measuring their progress toward their missions, but also a way of improving that progress. And when their missions are collectively effecting change in the world, their progress is important. Without data, it is impossible to measure financial and operational health, identify problems and measure organizational impact. What data metrics are nonprofits collecting and tracking, and how are they using that data to make decisions?
NTEN set out to measure the state of data among nonprofits and learn just how organizations are using these metrics to grow and succeed. In April 2012, we worked with idealware to conduct a survey of nonprofits to learn more about what data metrics nonprofits are collecting and tracking and how that data is used to make decisions. In total, 398 people from nonprofits representing 17 states responded to the survey. This means our sample should be considered somewhat indicative of nonprofit trends, but not a representative sample of nonprofits nationwide. At the conclusion of the survey, we conducted six one-hour-long telephone focus groups with individuals from nonprofits, consulting firms that work with nonprofits, and foundations—a total of 38 people. These discussions focused on the core metrics that nonprofits should track, what they were successfully tracking, barriers to success, and the role of foundations in this area.