Have Your Data and Understand It, Too

Recently while doing another Marc train commute between DC and Baltimore, a good friend asked for my thoughts on some simple steps campaigns and small nonprofits can take to start tracking data. Both organizations, they added, are likely to get overwhelmed with overly rigorous data “best practices” and complicated tools. “This is one of my favorite questions!” I shouted (too loudly) in response.

My mission in starting Marion Street Strategies was to make data more accessible for all. One of the key steps is to lower (if not remove completely) the barrier of entry by outlining simple, achievable steps organizations can take to be data-driven. With that in mind, I jotted down the following four-step game plan to getting started, with both my friend and these types of organizations in mind.

Start with people and priority metrics. All campaigns, startups and small businesses should track at least two types of data:

  1. A list of people associated with the organization (volunteers, donors, friends & family for campaigns for instance), and

  2. Core metrics to monitor growth and progress. These core metrics can be as simple as entering three numbers at the end of each day (or week) into a Google Doc (like fundraising calls made, house parties scheduled, or volunteer shifts completed). As a small business, I track proposals sent, proposals won, and total revenue, then compare each side-by-side with my annual goals. I do this in Google Sheets(though I transitioned to HubSpot to experiment with a more formal CRM  for the new year). It’s a lightweight, low-stress method to ensure we’re growing over time and I’m making enough to support the technology I use and my salary. That’s it.

To track people and metrics, find a simple (sometimes free) tool that works for YOU.  Google Drive and Docs are free and accessible, but can quickly become unwieldy. Too much data is a good problem to have, but nonetheless you might outgrow your MVP tracking system as your organization grows. To manage this, have someone on the team get to know a few Excel formulas and tricks (here are a few of my favorites, or you can sign up for weekly emails to learn a little over time) or move to a lightweight CRM like HubSpot (which also emphasizes data accessibility).

Full disclosure: I believe ALL tools are imperfect. Think of it this way: each tools is a basic hammers you're using to build a house. It is just as important what tools you use as your construction skills. In other words, don’t  wait for the perfect solution; just pick one and use it to the best of your ability!

Do not track nothing or everything. These are two sides of the spectrum. Sometimes folks think that they need to keep track of all data points they have on people, or all activities they're involved with. This is overwhelming and will lead to a “kitchen sink” of data, where you have a lot of numbers but few to no insights. (Another day, we’ll discuss kitchen sink tracking tools like Salesforce and Google Analytics.) Pick your priorities, start small, and design simple systems. Find times monthly or quarterly to revisit priorities to see if they need to be adjusted as your program changes and scales.

START TODAY! A jumpstart or what I liked to call “Data Blitz” can be helpful in getting set up -- cleaning your lists, pick a tool and invest time in getting it set up, determine priority metrics you want to track, write down systems and data checklists so things stay up to date long term. (Of all pieces, this is what a consultant can be most helpful with.)

Great, now what are you waiting for? Get started today and if you need any extra boast, email me at anna@marionstreetstrategies.com.