3 Data Sources Crucial to Measuring Your Nonprofit’s Impact - Heller Consulting

3 Data Sources Crucial to Measuring Your Nonprofit’s Impact

How do you know if your nonprofit’s activities, programs, and outreach are making a difference? Whether you’re trying to build an engaged community or design more efficient services, impact measurement is crucial to ensuring your continued success. According to SureImpact’s guide to impact measurement, measuring impact allows nonprofits to: 

  • Develop effective marketing and communications materials.
  • Improve programs and activities.
  • Remain accountable to all stakeholders. 
  • Build collaborative partnerships to fill in gaps in your community’s needs.

At its heart, impact measurement relies on the data you collect (and how you interpret it) to understand changes in your target audience as a result of your nonprofit’s activities. However, a single stream of information likely won’t produce the quantity or quality data necessary for a comprehensive impact assessment. For the most complete picture of your organization’s impact, consider stacking the following sources of impact data:

  • In-House Impact Data
  • Third-Party Impact Data
  • Partner Impact Data

In the sections below, we’ll look at what goes into each type of data collection and how it’s crucial to measure your impact. Let’s dive in! 

In-House Impact Data

In-house impact data is all the information your nonprofit collects directly from your clients and supporters. Your nonprofit should collect in-house data every time you interact with your constituents—from registering clients to managing volunteers to soliciting donations. Consider collecting in-house impact data from the following sources: 

  • Intake and registration forms. Whether a registrant is interested in attending an event, making a donation, joining a newsletter, volunteering, or benefiting from one of your programs, your intake and registration forms will be at the front line of your data collection. Use these forms to collect the most essential information about your constituents.
  • Surveys. Consider conducting surveys annually as well as before and after each program or event. For example, you might use survey participants of a job training program to asses the skills they learned or the types of jobs they apply to. Beyond giving your organization crucial impact data, conducting surveys and responding to feedback can be an effective retention strategy for stakeholders to show that you’re listening.
  • Interviews. Both formal and informal interviews can be an excellent way to get anecdotal information and qualitative data that support your quantitative findings. Depending on your interviewee’s preferences, you can conduct these in person or remotely. You can even correspond over email to better accommodate your interview subject.
  • Digital engagement. On many digital communication platforms, you can collect information about who is opening messages, interacting with social media posts, and clicking links. Use this information to evaluate the impact of your communications strategy in converting donors, recruiting volunteers, and connecting services to community members.

For many nonprofits, this in-house data makes up the bulk of their data collection and measurement. However, there are limitations to what information you can reasonably collect in-house. That’s where third-party data providers and partners come in. Let’s take a look.

Third-Party Impact Data

Because you won’t always have the means or ability to collect in-house data from your supporters or clients doesn’t mean that information is completely inaccessible to your nonprofit. Third-party data collected by a trusted provider can be an essential element in conducting a holistic impact measurement. NXUnite’s guide to data appends notes the following types of third-party data nonprofits can add to their database:

  • Demographic data, such as date of birth, philanthropic history, age, gender, race, education, and employment.
  • Geographic data that allows you to evaluate your impact on specific locations and audience segments. 
  • Wealth data, such as income, net worth, real estate and stock holdings, and prior donations to other nonprofits. 
  • Contact data, including preferred names, phone numbers, mailing addresses, social media profiles, and email addresses. Complete contact data allows you to more effectively communicate with (and collect additional impact information from) your supporters and clients.

You can use these additional data points to create more specific and effective segments in your nonprofit’s audiences, leading to more targeted, relevant, and personal communication and delivery of services.

In addition to adding data points, third-party data providers often offer data hygiene services that focus on efficiently removing out-of-date, inaccurate, and duplicate information from your database.

Partner Impact Data

Partner impact data is an important middle ground between third-party and in-house data. As you might expect, partner data comes from the data collected by your partners—fellow nonprofits, foundations, and collaboratives with a shared vision for supporting your community. 

Likely, the data your partners share with your nonprofit will be a combination of their own in-house and third-party data. 

Not only does this offer your team more ways to measure and understand your existing impact, but it can also help you better serve your community. For example, a foundation funding and sharing impact data with a number of nonprofits in a given region might be able to identify gaps in service that would otherwise go overlooked. A nonprofit might use partner impact data as important context when sharing their impact story.

Remember, sharing impact data can be a two-way street! Just as your partners share impact data with your organization, you can also share your impact data with them. When nonprofits are constantly communicating their impact data, they can better serve their community, raise more money, and make efficient, productive decisions.

Luckily, the days of measuring impact by hand are far behind us. To maximize your data and streamline processes, use an all-in-one user-friendly impact measurement solution that allows you to:

  • Standardize metrics. Your impact measurement solution should help you specify your outputs, outcomes, and key performance indicators. 
  • Securely collect data. Know your clients’ and supporters’ private data is safe and protected according to the highest standards, including HIPAA, ISO27001, 42-CFR Part 2, and GDPR.
  • Evaluate consistently. In order to avoid obsolete data and inaccurate results, nonprofits should use tools that allow them to continuously collect and evaluate their impact measurement data.
  • Collectively measure and share impact in real-time. For the most impactful impact measurement, choose a solution that can automatically share data in a continuous feedback loop across your internal team and partner nonprofits, collaboratives, and foundations.

By working together to leverage powerful tools and collect and share data from a range of trustworthy sources, nonprofits will be in the best position to measure and grow our collective impact.

About the Author: 

President & CEO of SureImpact

For more than 20 years, Sheri Chaney Jones has applied performance management, evaluation, and organization behavior best practices to non-profit organizations and government agencies to improve outcomes and efficiencies. An author, professor, and internationally recognized expert, Sheri believes in data, metrics, and accountability.

Sheri’s foray into entrepreneurship began with Measurement Resources Company in 2010. Now a national firm, Measurement Resources increases the capacity of non-profit and government sector organizations through high-performance practices and data-driven insights. In 2018, Sheri launched SureImpact to automate and simplify the process of collecting and sharing outcomes and impact data. 

Sheri is a thought leader on public sector evaluation and applied organizational research. She is the author of Impact & Excellence: Data-Driven Strategies for Aligning Mission, Culture, and Performance in Nonprofit and Government Organizations (Jossey Bass, 2014). 

Sheri is passionate about women’s equity and the advancement of girls. She is the Columbus Chapter President of the National Association of Women Business Owners and a Commissioner for the Columbus Women’s Commission for the Mayor’s Office. 

Sheri holds a Master of Arts degree in Industrial and Organizational Psychology from Central Michigan University and a Bachelor of Science in Psychology from The Ohio State University. Sheri, her husband Matt and their four children live in Columbus, Ohio.


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