What is data analytics and how can it help my non-profit?

Data analytics shown on a computer

When you were in school, did math class make your skin crawl? Did all those equations seem like some sort of weird foreign language you’d never learn to speak? Did you vow to find a way to live the rest of your life without ever having to use any sort of math ever again?

If you answered yes to any of those questions, congratulations and welcome to the club. Math scares the beejeebers out of a lot of people, and historically I’ve been one of them. Yes. It’s true. The kid scared of numbers grew up to be a statistician. The details of that journey are best left for another blog post, but the nutshell version is that I learned that numbers not only aren’t (always) scary but can provide a tremendous amount of insight into the world around us.

With that in mind, I’d like to try to remove some of the fear around data and the things you can do with it. Data is simply a collection of facts, such as numbers, words, measurements, observations or even just descriptions of things. Ugly, 5 feet 7 inches, 42, purple, 1.21 gigawatts, and a picture of a sloth. All these are pieces of data. (Technically, data is the plural form of datum, but data is now conventionally used as a singular noun.)

Analytics is simply the process of extracting meaning from data. There are lots of different ways to do this. Exactly which technique you use depends largely on what sort of data you have and the type of problem you’re trying to solve with it. Techniques range from simple (think calculating the average of something) to the extremely complex and not easily understood, even by experts.

That’s it. Data analytics is the process of extracting meaning from data. Not so scary after all, right?

So how does it work in the context of a nonprofit? First, let’s think about the different functional areas typically involved in the operation of a nonprofit.

At each stage of the operational process, analytics can have an impact.

In future blog posts I’ll touch on each of these in more detail. In the meantime, I encourage you to go forth and contemplate data and what it might be able to do for your nonprofit!

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Jen Dent, Ph.D.

Jen Dent, Ph.D.

Jen is the founder of Jaybird Analytics. Her mission is to provide non-profit organizations the same world class data and analytic services historically reserved only for large, for-profit corporations.

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