Why your charity needs a data strategy and how to get started

Charities and data are a winning team, provided they have the right strategy in place – here’s how to nail it down.

Chloe Green | 11th Nov 19
person using digital skills on laptop

Data is an invaluable resource for charities, and big data can make big changes – it’s at the heart of their ability to improve and grow. But does your charity really need a data strategy, and if so what does it comprise?

You may collect a lot of data on constituents, service users and donors, but face challenges around how to be more efficient with it, get the right answers and use it to its full potential. If your charity handles high volumes of data in its day to day operations, and has a desire to make the most of how it collects, organises, analyses and uses it, then it’s likely that defining a data strategy will be beneficial.

According to charity support organisation The Directory of Social Change, a data strategy is the essential first building block to have in place as part of a data governance framework that includes policies, procedures, architecture and a data-driven culture.

A data strategy helps you define why data is important to your charity; the value that can be gained from different data sources, and the kind of data approaches that can be used to help your organisation to achieve its mission.

As a general rule, the key components of a data strategy are: collect, govern, manage, use and share.

Your charity needs to define the rules, aims and processes under each of these headings, and a strategy will set out exactly this.

A data strategy:

  • Helps you use resources more efficiently and effectively

  • Removes silos and helps you connect the dots by integrating different data sources

  • Makes data more visible and accessible so that it’s useful for everyone

Here are a few pointers on how to get started now:


1 – Identify data types and sources

The first step should be to identify the types of data you’re collecting, and want to collect. Carrying out an audit of how your charity currently uses data will help identify gaps, untapped opportunities and areas where different data sources you have access to could be combined together.


2 – Set clear, actionable goals for data use

Setting out what your charity wants to achieve overall with its data is essential, but this needs to be backed up with clear and understandable goals that can be measured.


3 – Define a road map

Probably the most important step in the process is defining clear steps to achieving these aims that include both how you will gather insights and also transform them into action.

For more information, we recommend NPC’s report ‘Data with Destiny: How to turn your charity’s data into meaningful action’, which explains how data can be a practical tool for charities.


4 – Plan data storage and organisation

This step establishes clear processes for data management. What tools will you need for storage and management? How will you present and share data, and who will need it? It’s crucial to also consider your data management strategy alongside regulation such as GDPR.


5 – Create a proposal and get buy-in

If your want your strategy to be a success you won’t get far without the buy-in of senior managers and trustees to approve the resources you’ll need to carry out your strategy. Provide clear examples of where other charities have succeeded, and give leaders a sense of ownership.


6 – Assign responsibilities and roles

Lastly, find people from across the organisation to help champion the importance of data. Data should not just be the sole responsibility of ‘digital’ people but something which department heads and managers with a wide range of viewpoints can utilise.