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The State of Nonprofit Data

Lori Halley 05 December 2012 0 comments

In November, NTEN released The State of Nonprofit Data. This report is based on a survey that NTEN conducted in conjunction with Idealware in April 2012 to look at nonprofits and their relationships with data. 

As the Report's Introduction suggests, "[d]ata offers nonprofits a means of measuring their progress toward their missions, but also a way of improving that progress. ...Without data, it is impossible to measure financial and operational health, identify problems and measure organizational impact."

But what the survey identified “was a large dichotomy—either [nonprofits] were doing a lot with their metrics or not much at all.” 

Not surprisingly, the survey found that barriers prevented many organizations from collecting and integrating important data into their daily work. The four barriers most commonly cited were:

  • issues related to collecting and working with data (27 percent of responses).
  • lack of expertise (24 percent of responses)
  • issues of time and prioritization (22 percent of responses).
  • Challenges with technology (23 percent).

What data is being tracked:

  • Nearly all nonprofits track some sort of metrics. 
  • A much lower percentage use the data they collect to make strategy or program decisions.
  • The vast majority of nonprofits track finance and operations data while only about two-thirds track marketing, communications and program data.
The report’s findings suggest that “most nonprofits are tracking financial and operations data and using it to make decisions about budgeting or programs. ...A similar percentage measure program metrics. ...Organizations with larger budgets, as well as human services and health nonprofits, were more likely to be tracking and using data than other survey respondents.”


What most nonprofits aren’t tracking:

But the survey findings that may be the most telling are those that highlight what data nonprofits aren’t tracking. For example:


  • less than two thirds of nonprofits track outreach data used for marketing, communications and fundraising programs, and fewer still find that data to be useful for decision-making.
  • only about half track outcome data for their clients.
  • the least tracked data, according to our survey, were external data related to a nonprofit’s mission.

How is data being used?

As the Executive Summary of the report suggests, “how nonprofits are currently using data does not necessarily reflect how they would like to use it.” The survey found that “for the most part nonprofits are using metrics in this area to help with decision-making about budgets and programs. many also track communications and fundraising data—primarily the size of their mailing lists and the number of new donors—but far fewer use these metrics to make budget or program decisions. Programmatic metrics fall somewhere in between. more nonprofits than not are tracking this kind of data, and most of those tracking it are also using it for decision-making.”


Report Highlights:

Here are some of the key survey findings:


  • 99% of respondents track some sort of metrics
  • 89% track financial data and find it useful for making decisions
  • 50% are tracking data about outcomes of clients/constituents
  • 41% are tracking external data about their issue area
  • 39% use donor data to make budgeting decisions
  • 26% use donor data to make program decisions

Want to read the full report?


You can download this NTEN report here: 2012 State of the Nonprofit Data Report.


Related posts:

For small organizations just starting to think about leveraging their data, you might want to check out a Wild Apricot blog post, as well as Beth Kanter’s post in response:


Lori Halley [Engaging Apricot] Lori Halley [Engaging Apricot]

Posted by Lori Halley [Engaging Apricot]

Published Wednesday, 05 December 2012 at 8:30 AM
Sorry, this blog post is closed for further comments.

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