Nonprofits already know that big data can open up a swath of fundraising, marketing and management opportunities. But for all the expectation, it’s important to remember that even the best data has its limits. Any org looking to leverage and apply data should immediately lose the following assumptions:
1. Your data is complete and accurate.
“… the availability of data for most measurable units and the sheer volume of data generated is unprecedented, but more data creates more false leads and blind alleys, complicating the search for meaningful, predictable structure…”
This doesn’t mean your data is unusable. It just means you need to be hyper-vigilant about data hygiene, cleaning your databases once every year or two, and certainly before any major analysis.
2. Your data tells the whole story.
To return to Google Flu Trends, data scientists found that, while Google’s forecasts overestimated the number of flu cases, had those results been combined with data from the CDC, the predictions would have been much more accurate. The point is, your data can tell a number of different stories, but it’s merely one narrator. To leverage data effectively, you must approach it in the context of additional studies, conversations and observations.
3. Bigger data is better.
“Medium data is simply organized storytelling—and if there’s one thing nonprofits do well, it’s tell stories about the need in our communities. ”
Before you approach data collection and analysis, assess your information requirements. What does your story need to support it? Can you achieve the same ends without burying yourself and your colleagues in data? As a bonus, being savvy with your data needs can help you hone your message before it too becomes bloated and unwieldy.
Nonprofit leaders can and should embrace the big data revolution, but approach it with eyes wide open. Recognize data for what it is—a valuable tool, but also one of many.
Josh Mait is the Chief Marketing Officer of Relationship Science (RelSci). RelSci helps create competitive advantage for leading non-profit, corporate and financial organizations through a crucial yet vastly underutilized asset: relationship capital with influential decision makers.
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