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  • Ryan Brooks

Nonprofit Data Bootcamp - Intro and Topics

Updated: Jan 30

Learn to Track and Analyze Nonprofit Impact

You don’t need an advanced degree (or any degree really) to learn how to effectively manage and use data at a nonprofit. Many of the concepts and techniques are not very complex and can be learned by anyone.

If you are the person who says “I’m no good with numbers”, then, despite your lack of confidence, you are perfectly well equipped to do a great job working with data at nonprofits.

If you are the person who says “I have an accounting background and am great with data”, then you're a step ahead. You might be a little uncomfortable with all the fluffy nonprofity-feel-goody stuff that comes out of working in a nonprofit. Me too!!! It’s fine...really...totally fine for at least 50% of us...maybe more. Maybe 60%. (I just made that up! Don't you just love data!) Joking aside, it's important to become comfortable with data, and many of these posts are designed to help people say "I can do this." and actually believe it.

Oh, these posts are primarily focused on people who want to manage program data for nonprofits, not fundraising data. But, the basic concepts and techniques will be valuable for anyone who wants to “do data” with nonprofits.

Why Create This Bootcamp?

Some of us are fortunate to have opportunities to gain the skills and experiences needed to do data focused work in nonprofits, and many of us are not. But, most nonprofits are required to accurately collect and report data about their services. If they have a little breathing room, they might even dig into the data to learn from it. The content we will cover is meant to make data management in nonprofits more accessible to more people...people who don't have formal training but understand that data can be valuable.

Spreadsheets are the World’s Greatest Calculator

Pretty much everyone with a major role in nonprofit data will need to learn some basic skills in Excel or Google Sheets. If you don’t just ask Martha, “your data person”, to give you some charts and tables, then spreadsheets are in your future. Even if you do ask Martha for everything, you should still get hands-on experience with data yourself. Spreadsheets are just part of data for the vast majority of us. Even when you have a great data system, the old-fashioned spreadsheet* is often the best tool you will need to do that last thing your data system won’t help you with.

This bootcamp isn’t really about learning to do spreadsheets. You’ll have to look at that on your own, and there are numerous great, free YouTube tutorials. The good news is that you can master the basics in less than a week. By the basics, I mean data entry, very simple formulas and built in functions, and maybe using a DGET or an IF/THEN statement (probably not don’t run away!)

*According to Wikipedia, LANPAR was the first electronic spreadsheet on mainframe and time sharing computers starting in 1969. VisiCalc was released in1979 for the Apple II computer, so regular people could join the spreadsheet party.

What about relational databases?

Some people will say, forget spreadsheets and learn how to use something called a ‘relational database management system’ like Access, or even learn SQL (a language used to work with relational databases). Relational databases are incredible, and are way beyond the scope of what we want to cover.

If you are just getting started down your data path, I would encourage you to hold off learning about relational databases for now.

Won’t my CRM, Case Management System, or Data Tracking Software do it all for me?

A little bit of Yes, but Mostly No.

A Little Bit of Yes

These systems are meant to help you collect data, organize that data, and run reports relatively easily based on that data. Sometimes, their customer support staff will have useful suggestions about what to track or reports to run based on the data you collect.

but Mostly No

It’s your job to...

decide what data to collect.

know how to interpret and describe what you see in those reports 0 trends, insights, ways of “spinning” things toward the positive, when to say the house is (not) on fire.

know when you don’t have enough data to draw a conclusion. Ex: Is 10 people in 6 months enough to call it a trend?

create charts and tables that make sense. They are logical, easy to read, well labeled, and not overwhelming or loaded with unnecessary data.

figure out what data is a waste of time and resources and to stop collecting that data.

teach your team the value of the data and to know when they are struggling with it.

By “your” I mean a human...someone with thoughts, empathy, and passion about the work being done. The “your” could be you (the person reading this) or another person in your organization. But the “your” is not a piece of software...not yet anyway.

Nonprofit Data Bootcamp Topics

Reporting your impact is hard when you’re juggling spreadsheets. countbubble makes it easy so you can focus more time on the people you serve.

Founder, CountBubble, LLC

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