DATA SMART: More Than “Show me the Money.”
By Samantha Zimmerman, Practice Manager, Senior Associate & Data Management Consultant (Young Associates)
Originally published in the May 2014 ACCA e-bulletin
We’ve all heard about data: the importance of data; the need to keep data safe; the value of turning raw data into actionable information. But what does it mean for our clients? Most organizations are already comfortable making strategic decisions based on their financial data, because GAAP provides guidelines for maintaining financial data so that it is viewed as SMART (Specific, Measureable, Attainable, Realistic, Timely); but what about our statistical data? Not only is there no one set of rules for dealing with statistical data, there are also privacy laws that dictate how we must collect, store and use data. It can all be very overwhelming.
The arts sector must also conform to CADAC which requires our clients to analyze and report their statistical and financial data to Government funders. CADAC and its partner funders across the country are becoming more rigorous and demanding in reconciling and verifying statistical data, which makes it even more important for organizations to properly track the necessary data required for CADAC reporting. More and more, clients have been reaching out to Young Associates in search of either full service data entry and processing, or targeted data management support with assistance in collecting data, pulling and reviewing periodic reports (monthly, annual), and reconciliation with bookkeeping software, as well as staff training or prospect research.
There is so much potential for data collection, but the majority of small and mid-size not-for-profit organizations often lack the human resources, the technology/software packages or the time to deal with all the data. We’ve all seen those organizations that are tracking their donations, event attendance and other lists in Excel spreadsheets. Much of the data stored in these Excel spreadsheets lives independently from other organizational data, and many of the lists lack standardization in the collection and presentation of the data.
While most of us are using Excel adequately, the majority will never use it to its full potential. Generally it’s seen as a tool for tracking static data; a moment in time, an individual project, or small pieces of information from a single cycle. How many years has a patron attended that event? How many donors are attending our events as well, and vice versa, are program participants returning as supporters? Young Associates has developed a proven system for helping organizations determine their data goals, and develop systems that work within the means of the organization to collect and analyze the data that gives the true picture. Where the mindset needs to change is not thinking of those Excel spreadsheets as a moment in time, but as a piece of a larger picture. Just as the financial information of the organization tells a story, the statistical data of an organization also has a story to tell.