Does your organization rely on data for campaigns and policy decisions? Or is it still trying to make sense of the ever growing volume of information? The reality is that data is here to stay. The first step in leveraging it successfully is to look beyond the numbers. Think in terms of establishing a working data culture within your organization.

What is Data Culture?

According to the Stanford Social Innovation Review, as many as 75% of nonprofits collect some form of data. But, only 6% feel that their organization is actually putting that data to good use. That’s where data culture comes in. Collecting data is only the first step. Implementing a plan to measure and take action based on the results is the key to using data effectively.

According to Stanford Program on Social Entrepreneurship lecturer Kelly Kathleen Janus:

Although many organizations don’t feel like their organizations are making good use of their data, creating a data culture is critical to their success. The good news is that you don’t have to be a data scientist to tell a good data story. All organizations have the capacity to create a data culture, no matter how big or small, or data savvy or not, they are.

According to industry statistics, data driven organizations enjoy everything from higher revenue to lower operating costs. 27% compared to 7%, and 12% compared to 1% respectively. Not only is data a critical tool for measuring performance, it can also have a profound effect on the bottom line.

How to Create a Data Culture at a Nonprofit

You don’t necessarily need a data scientist on staff to implement a data strategy that works for your organization’s short and long term goals. But knowing what to do with your data (and how to do it) can be a daunting prospect. There are no hard and fast rules that dictate how to set up a data culture across nonprofit organizations. But there are a few guidelines that can help your nonprofit become more data driven.

Data Quality

It may seem a little counterintuitive, but in data as in life, quality trumps quantity. Some of the main characteristics of good data reservoirs include:

  • Curated from a variety of reliable sources
  • Well organized and up to date
  • Avoid information overload – think lean and relevant
  • Trust, humanity, equity, and privacy are critical elements of a strong data culture

Governance Policies

Establish organization-wide governance and compliance policies. These protect and maintain the quality and integrity of your data.


Data is information. Setting up systems that allow the right people to access what they need when they need it is a key attribute of data driven nonprofits. Don’t create a master key and hand it to everyone in the organization. Set up systems that grant targeted access as needed.


Analytics tools make it possible to gauge performance, answer fundamental business questions, and make the leap from numbers and data sets to a compelling and relatable message.

Stick to the Story

Numbers and statistics matter. But, at the end of the day, data is only as good as the greater story that it tells. This is especially true for nonprofit organizations. The most successful data driven nonprofits use data to enhance their storytelling efforts in service of the big picture.

Thinking about your annual report and data to support your story? We can help you prove your impact to donors and grantors using storytelling … and data! Try our free Annual Report Prep Guide to get started.