Survey Finds Nonprofits Facing Obstacles Managing Data

Sep 5th 2013
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By Jason Bramwell

While transforming membership data into business intelligence is a top priority for strategic non-for-profit leaders, managing that data successfully can be a challenge. The primary obstacle regarding the collection, analysis, and/or reporting of membership metrics is missing or inaccurate data, according to a new survey by Washington, DC–based CPA and consulting firm Tate & Tryon.

Many organizations, particularly in the not-for-profit sector, are unprepared to leverage the power of big data – information existing in extremely large and/or unstructured databases – much less small data, such as information about member involvement or organizational activities. 

When it comes to data – big or small – not-for-profits struggle with developing the technical and organizational infrastructure to leverage the power of stakeholder information, according to Tate & Tryon. Specifically, not-for-profits often lack the collaboration, organizational structures and processes, and strategic alignment required to successfully collect, analyze, report, and take action on data. They also struggle to define complex, multidimensional gauges of success, such as member engagement. 

Of the forty-eight not-for-profit leaders – primarily chief membership officers (40 percent) and CFOs (38 percent) – who were polled earlier this summer by Tate & Tryon for its Membership Metrics: A Review of Current and Best Practices survey, nearly half (45 percent) said their top challenge with collecting data is missing or inaccurate data, followed by data formatting that does not permit analysis or reporting (24 percent). Other obstacles include insufficient resources (17 percent) and staff lacking proper skills (2 percent). Ten percent of not-for-profit leaders reported they do not experience any challenges. 

Tate & Tryon says",Without understanding what is truly preventing your organization from fully leveraging your data, you may end up wasting time and money – such as buying new database software – fixing something that wasn't broken." The firm recommends reviewing your entire data process from the beginning, including your data sources and inputs, to identify which parts may not be working effectively. Realign work processes and roles as needed to standardize data and maintain its integrity. 

Nearly half (47 percent) of respondents are dissatisfied or very dissatisfied with the ease of obtaining information from their database (Association Management Software [AMS] or Customer Relationship Management [CRM]), while 40 percent of respondents are dissatisfied or very dissatisfied with the technology used to collect, analyze, and/or report membership metrics. 

On the flipside, more than half (56 percent) of respondents reported being satisfied or very satisfied with how their membership metrics are defined or calculated, while approximately half (51 percent) are satisfied or very satisfied with the quality of their data. 

Five Reasons to Integrate Your Datasets

Frustrations and obstacles surrounding collecting, analyzing, and reporting data may arise from the fact that only 24 percent of respondents stated their website, AMS or CRM, and accounting system are fully integrated. 

Why is integrating your datasets important? Tate & Tryon offers the following five reasons:

  1. It reduces the potential for redundant processes.
  2. It streamlines activities like data cleansing.
  3. It helps organize roles and responsibilities.
  4. It better ensures apples-to-apples comparisons and trending.
  5. It is a prerequisite for higher-level analysis, such as predictive modeling and behavioral analytics.

Tate & Tryon recommends reviewing your current datasets and data processes to determine the steps you should take to integrate your datasets. 

Technology Not the Only Issue

While technology issues remain a concern for not-for-profit leaders, structural, procedural, or other organizational issues may pose other problems.

"Most of our clients focus their time, energy, and money on the IT aspects of data management, overlooking the importance of strategically selecting which metrics to capture and how to report them as well as the business processes used to capture the data and ensure the data is reliable", Tate & Tryon Managing Partner Charles Tate said in the survey report.

A recent focus group for association executives conducted by Lauren Malone, director of strategic research at Tate & Tryon, found that associations struggle to collect basic membership information, such as where new members come from and why members leave.

Several executives who attended the focus group said they do not consult their membership metrics when making strategic decisions or evaluating progress toward their goals. Fortunately, according to Tate & Tryon, this appears to be the exception rather than the rule, as 83 percent of respondents report they do use membership metrics to help direct their organization's strategic plan.

However, less than half (47 percent) of respondents consult their organization's strategic plan when deciding which membership metrics to collect. These findings suggest that although many organizations use membership metrics to measure progress against goals, they do not use their strategic plan to drive decisions about which metrics to invest resources in collecting, analyzing, and reporting. 

Without using a strategic approach to drive decisions about which metrics to track, organizations may be investing resources in metrics that are not meaningful for gauging the success of the organization or for providing business intelligence. This not only potentially diverts attention from more useful indicators, but may misinform an organization or provide inaccurate information about its members or programs. Tate & Tryon recommends ensuring that your metrics can be linked to your organization's goals, priorities, and mission. 

About the survey:

Forty-eight not-for-profit leaders completed the online survey between June 18 and July 12. Most respondents (92 percent) are from professional or trade associations. Forty-two percent have individuals as members, 35 percent have nonindividual members, and 23 percent have a mix of individuals and nonindividuals in their membership. A range of revenue sizes is represented, with 39 percent of responding organizations having annual revenue of $10 million or more. 


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