The Struggle to Leverage Nonprofit Data


A recent MCF member survey demonstrated that Minnesota grantmakers are becoming increasingly focused on evaluating impact. Good evaluation practices start with good data — from grantmakers and grantees alike. The State of Nonprofit Data, published in November by NTEN, shows that while virtually all nonprofit respondents track some sort of metrics, just half of them track data about client outcomes:

  • 99% of respondents track some sort of metrics, and 89% track financial data and find it useful for making decisions.
  • Just 50% of respondents are tracking data about outcomes of clients/constituents. But nearly all those who are tracking this data find it useful for program and budgeting decisions.

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. There were, however, significant barriers for many organizations. The four most commonly cited were:

  • Issues related to collecting and working with data
  • Lack of expertise
  • Issues of time and prioritization
  • Challenges with technology

In addition, external demands and stakeholders — including funders; local, state and federal governments; donors; clients; and community groups — also hinder an organization’s ability to make strategic use of data they have collected.

Join the Conversation: Capacity-building for smaller, newer nonprofits is an important element of many grantmakers’ funding strategy. How can grantmakers build nonprofit capacity for tracking client outcomes?

– Anne Bauers, MCF research manager  

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