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Drive Decision-Making with Quality Data

Learning Objectives

After completing this unit, you’ll be able to:

  • Describe how organizations use data to drive decision-making.
  • Explain the importance of choosing the right data collection process for your organization.
  • Identify the importance of keeping data clean.

Let’s Talk About Data

Ok, we know what you might be thinking — data? Ew! I thought this module was about creating beautiful reports and dashboards with Nonprofit Success Pack (NPSP). Well, here’s a little secret: even the most savvy reporting tools in the world won’t help you if your data isn’t clean. The key to having accurate reports is having data you can trust. This is especially important for nonprofits who need to demonstrate that their programs and services are having a real impact. 

So before we get into reporting, we need to have a talk about the importance of data quality. To do this, let’s turn to our (fictional) nonprofit No More Homelessness (NMH) to learn how they became a data-driven organization.

Becoming a Data-Driven Organization

NMH, an organization dedicated to providing support to homeless adults, wants to become a data-driven organization—and they’re using Salesforce to do this! Salesforce’s reporting functionality is powerful. In fact, it’s one of the main reasons why nonprofits choose to use the Salesforce platform. Using Salesforce’s reports and dashboards, the NMH team can compare, evaluate, dissect, and categorize data to make informed decisions about their operations and fundraising efforts. But before they are able to use these incredible tools, they needed to make sure they are collecting the right data. 

You see, because of Salesforce’s versatility NMH can customize NPSP to capture any data they want. But remember: With great power comes great responsibility—just because you can collect all the data in the world doesn’t mean you should.

A data-driven superhero.

Before the staff at NMH began customizing their NPSP org, they sat down to think about what data they wanted to capture and why. They started with the basics:

  • What data do staff need to do their jobs?
  • What data do funders require?
  • What reports do staff need to run to make strategic decisions?

After talking through all of this, NMH staff realized they wanted to collect a LOT of data! Including data about:

  • Clients
  • Volunteers
  • Donors
  • Donations
  • Campaigns
  • NMH’s facilities
  • Daily activities

But remember, NMH wants to become a data-driven organization—that means they want to use data strategically to inform decisions. The team can’t afford to spend time with data unless it can help them evaluate and improve the services they provide or improve the organization as a whole. This means that it’s important to create a plan for:

  • How they would get all this data into Salesforce
  • Who would be in charge of keeping it updated
  • What clear purpose every data point would serve

There’s also a huge social responsibility when it comes to data collection. For example, it’s pretty common in social services to ask clients for demographic information. But questions about gender, race, and sexual orientation, for example, can often alienate people or be used to discriminate. So for all of your data points ask: What is the business rationale for asking this? How does asking for the data relate to your organization's overall diversity strategy? And most importantly, how will this data actually be used?

Luckily, there are great toolkits available that can help you think through what it is you’re collecting and what the social justice implications may be. See the Resources section below for a link to toolkits from Racial Equity Tools. Collecting data is a big responsibility—so wield your power wisely! 

Why Does Bad Data Happen to Good Orgs?

The staff at NMH are collecting and adding quality data to their Salesforce org and their reports reflect that (go, NMH!). But it wasn’t always that way. While they were getting Salesforce up and running, there were times when staff would forget to enter key information, or would accidentally mistype and enter the wrong information. In the CRM world, there’s a saying: garbage in, garbage out. If you enter bad data, then your reports will also be inaccurate. And no one wants that! Let’s explore what we mean by “bad data” and then talk about ways you can avoid it.

Bad data can refer to a lot of things, including:

  • Incomplete records
  • Missing records
  • Duplicate records
  • Out-of-date data
  • No data standards (for example, typing “CA” in some records and “California” in others)

Bad data can come from a variety of sources and circumstances, including:

  • Little or inadequate training: Staff at your organization may not have received enough training on best practices for collecting and managing data.
  • No automated prevention: There may not be automated mechanisms in place to prevent bad data from entering your Salesforce org.
  • Lack of data hygiene policies: Your organization may have little or no data hygiene policies in place.
  • No culture of clean data: Your leadership may not be emphasizing the importance of clean data, causing your organization to lack a clean data culture.

Research shows that bad data is consistently linked with lost revenue, wasted time, and inefficiencies. And for nonprofits with limited resources and no time to lose, having bad data can really hinder your organization from achieving its mission. 

So how did NMH go get their data so clean?

Quality Data = Quality Reports

There are three things you can do to ensure quality data is entered into your Salesforce org. First, as we mentioned earlier, be mindful of the data you want to collect. Data without purpose is just more material to manage and can get in the way of your important work.  

Second, there are plenty of tools within Salesforce that can help enforce data quality, such as required fields, in-app guidance, help text, and validation rules. Talk to your system administrator to learn more about these tools and where it might make sense to implement them.

Third, and most importantly, there are “people-based solutions” for maintaining data quality. Data quality is the responsibility of everyone who works in a Salesforce org. And data quality starts from the top! Leadership must cultivate a culture of clean data by emphasizing its importance across the organization. Nonprofit leaders should ensure that data hygiene schedules are in place and that ownership of data maintenance is distributed across the organization. If your Salesforce data is untrustworthy, then you won’t be able to gain accurate insights from your Salesforce org—and that’s the whole purpose of this endeavor, right?

Data collection and maintenance isn’t easy, but it is possible—and the results of having reliable data make it all worth it. And lucky for you, this module is all about the Salesforce tools you can use to demonstrate the real return on your effort. In the next unit, we’ll look at how you can use NPSP’s reporting functionality to find, format, and customize reports to meet your organization’s unique needs.


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