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  • Ryan Brooks

Duplicated, Unduplicated, and Simple Total Counts for Nonprofits

Updated: Apr 3

What you need to know about duplicated counts, unduplicated counts, and simple total counts for nonprofit data reporting  

We explained the basics of duplicated and unduplicated counts for nonprofits in another blog post. These are core concepts for nonprofits, and that post includes lots of great examples to help you learn the basics.

We defined duplicated and unduplicated counts as the following:  

  • Duplicated Count - the total number of units your nonprofit touched over a specified time period.  

  • Unduplicated Count - the total number of unique units your nonprofit touched over a specified time period. 

The word “unique” is the only difference between these two definitions. That word makes unduplicated (i.e. unique) counts differ from duplicated counts. 

For human service nonprofits, those “units” are people (i.e. clients, families, adults, children) - basically anyone with a spark of life that can’t be copied. Unduplicated counts can also be outcomes you achieved with people, such as jobs obtained or GEDs acquired. 

Here’s the thing... sometimes your counts are neither. Sometimes counts are just counts.

In this post, you'll learn

  1. Why duplicated and unduplicated counts don't work for all data

  2. Why some data should be understood as simple total counts

  3. How to choose the right label for your data - duplicated/unduplicated vs. simple total count

Why nonprofits use duplicated and unduplicated counts

When we use duplicated and unduplicated, we assume that it's possible to repeat something that we count.

  • We can work with the same family more than one time during the reporting period, and we can count that work more than once.

  • A participant can achieve an outcome more than one time, and we can count it more than once.

  • A participant can be enrolled in more than one program/service in our organization, and we can count them more than once in our data system.

In other words, we assume it is possible for a person or an outcome to be counted more than one time. When it is possible, it's important for us to use duplicated and unduplicated counts correctly.

We use duplicated and unduplicated language to make it clear whether we are counting that person (or outcome) only one time or that we might be counting them multiple times when we report our data.

For example, the Johnson family might come to our food pantry every week for a year, so we could count and report them as 52 duplicated families served because it's the Johnson family coming 52 times.

Or, we could count and report them as 1 unduplicated family served because it's still just the Johnson family coming a bunch of times - not 52 different Johnson families.

In this example, we can provide a service to a family multiple times, and we need to be clear about that in our reporting.

When simple total counts are the best choice

Report simple total counts when:

  1. It's not helpful to know whether something can be repeated or is repeated. How many meals were provided last year? How many volunteer hours were contributed? How much financial assistance was provided?

  2. It's more confusing to refer to the count as duplicated or unduplicated.

TJ: How many pairs of glasses did you buy last year?

Me: I bought 3 unduplicated pairs of glasses.


Me: I bought 3 duplicated pairs of glasses.


Me: I bought 3 pairs of glasses.

What does "3 unduplicated pairs of glasses" even mean? It's better to report a simple total count.

Use simple total counts when you report total units of service.

When your nonprofit reports total outputs, your counts are not necessarily duplicated or unduplicated. They can just be counts or simple totals. Here are a few examples:

  • We served 5,000 meals last year.

  • We provided 300 hours of job coaching.

  • Volunteers built 25 wheelchair accessible ramps.

These totals aren't improved or clarified by adding duplicated/unduplicated labels. In fact, they might be more confusing.

When to use duplicated, unduplicated, and simple total counts

So how do you decide how to label your data?

1.Use a simple total count you are referring to total services units alone

It's confusing and unnecessary to add "duplicated" or "unduplicated" labels to this kind of data.

For example, these statements only provide total units served (outputs):

  • We served 5,000 total meals last year.

  • We provided 500 hours of case management.

  • We completed 100 referrals.

Note, these statements do not refer to people, just total service units.

2. Use duplicated and/or unduplicated counts when you refer to people.

Since people can often be counted more than once (e.g. when you have multiple programs or services, when you serve people multiple times), it's important to use duplicated/unduplicated counts.

  • We served 500 unduplicated families.

  • We mentored 100 unduplicated students.

  • We provided 5,000 total meals last year to 750 duplicated families.

    • This statement combines a simple total count (5,000 meals) with a duplicated count (750 families).

3. Use duplicated and/or unduplicated counts when you refer to outcomes.

Since most outcomes refer to people, and because outcomes can be repeated in some instances (e.g. a person in your jobs program can get a job and then get a better job), it's important to use duplicated/unduplicated counts.

  • Last year, 250 unduplicated adults in our IT program obtained jobs.

  • Our after-school tutoring program helped 100 unduplicated students achieve grade-level reading.

  • We helped 25 unduplicated families obtain stable housing in March.

Use these questions to decide if you should use duplicated/unduplicated counts or simple total counts

  1. Is it possible for me to count this person more than once in my organization or in a program?  

    • If yes, use duplicated and/or unduplicated counts when you talk about people

  2. Is it possible for me to count this achievement more than once for the same person?

    • If yes, use duplicated and/or unduplicated counts when talking about achievements (aka outcomes)

  3. Am I reporting total service units without any reference to the quantity of people?

    • If yes, use simple total counts and do not talk about duplicated or unduplicated counts.


Our original definitions of duplicated and unduplicated counts still work...most of the time. But, sometimes they don't quite fit the data you want report. If that's the case, consider whether a simple total count is really the best, most accurate label for your data.

Reporting your impact is hard when you’re juggling spreadsheets. countbubble makes it easy so you can focus on your mission.

 countbubble is case management simplified. We can help your nonprofit master data collection and reporting. Email us  or sign up for email updates on blog posts, product news, or scheduling a demo.

Founder, CountBubble, LLC

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