When you report on your nonprofit data, do you feel confident that it is accurate? Some quick tips:
- Where is your data entered? Although you may have a central database, staff may also enter information in personal spreadsheets, databases or even handwritten notes. You probably won’t find out unless you take the time to ask pointed questions and observe the data entry process.
- What type of data validation is available? Especially if much of your data is stored in spreadsheets, there may not be any data validation in place, or it may be easy to inadvertenly change a formula without realizing there is a mistake.
- Do you provide ongoing training and support on your system? Doing a few introductory sessions when a new database is rolled out isn’t sufficient. You may find that the system that was provided a short while back no longer meets your users’ needs.
- Do you provide mostly drop down list of choices for your questions, or do you include many open ended or ‘notes’ fields? Placing too much information in ‘notes’ will be a nightmare when you’re ready to run reports to analyze whether your program has met its objectives.
- Do you have a way to set security levels for different users – and do you promptly remove accounts for staff who have departed? Many nonprofits don’t.
At my organization, as part of our Technology department, I work jointly with colleagues from the Research group since we share a desire to report on good data. We regularly visit our sites to review data entry practices and recommend ways to improve data integrity. We also explain why it is often preferable to enter data into shared databases instead of multiple spreadsheets. (Here’s a brief presentation that compares both tools. Also see Robert Weiner’s blog post, Reigning in Shadow Databases and Laura Quinn’s insightful article, In Search of Better Data About Nonprofits’ Programs.)
Can you reply on your nonprofit’s data?