The Top Data Obstacles and How to Overcome Them

Data is essential for every single organization out there. Fortunately, in today’s vast world of technology, data has become easier than ever to access. It provides a helpful way for organizations to track numbers, insights and trends. In turn, those results can pave the way for more efficient operations. But it doesn’t stop there—simply accessing data isn’t enough. In order to make the best use of it, organizations need to be able to understand data before they can apply its meaning to their plans for success.

Nonprofit Hub recently partnered with EveryAction to perform a survey on the state of data in the nonprofit sector. For the survey, 467 nonprofit professionals participated. The majority of our respondents identified as small nonprofits (1-24 staff members), and we received answers from a wide variety of nonprofit sector professionals, including executive leadership, fundraising and marketing professionals, operations and more.

Of those participants, 90 percent said that they were collecting data. So the question remains…why aren’t they using it? Sometimes, figuring out how to best utilize data might seem like a big bite to chew. We’re taking a look at the top responses that prevent organizations from utilizing data and provided solutions for overcoming them; because no matter the challenges it poses, data is worth the work.


1. Not Enough Time or Personnel

Initially, the process of figuring out the best way to use data for your nonprofit will take some time, but it’ll pay off. Once you get a solid data system in place, you can better analyze insights from your donors and fundraising. It’ll restructure your business plan, leaving more time to focus on other things.

Cloud for Good has some great tips for managing data with limited resources. Here are some of our own suggestions on how to make the most out of your organization’s data when time and staff are in short supply:

  • Brush up on your knowledge. Getting the know-how on how to track and analyze data will work wonders and prevent wasted time on trial-and-error in the future. Check out tutorials and FAQs for your database to work out better and the faster ways to be getting your work done.
  • Clean up your data. Figure out rules to keep when entering and tracking data. Creating standards for typing things like addresses and phone numbers will result in a database that’s as clean as a whistle. Keeping guidelines like that will keep your data neat and tidy, which will make it easier to manage later on.
  • Pass it on. Make sure you have a good system for documenting your steps and strategies for the future analysts in your organization. With good instructions, it will be easy to teach those that follow in your data footsteps.

2. Not Enough Experience Using Data

Managing data can be a group effort at your nonprofit. Someone should have the know-how about using your organization’s data software. Then, with open channels of communication between your team members, others can step in where they have expertise.

Various data software tools can be integrated into different job roles throughout your nonprofit. Determine what works best for your organization to shape a plan for how individuals and teams can better handle data. Donor retention software, Constituent Relationship Management (CRM) and fundraising software can all be delegated to people that already work within those areas. Once people have been introduced and trained in the software, they’ll be able to train others.

3. Data Isn’t Kept in One Place

It’s no secret that switching back and forth between software takes time. That’s why when searching for the right data software for your organization, it’s especially helpful to look for programs that can track more than one type of data–this will make your job faster and easier. Storing your data in a central location saves time and makes it simpler to cross-analyze trends and insights.

Be on the lookout for an article coming soon where we outline some of our favorite nonprofit software tools that are easy to use.

4. Lack of Analysis Tools

Stuck in a data rut? There’s probably a tool for that. There are lots of programs that offer answers when you aren’t sure how to work with the data that you’re given. SurveyMonkey offers a number of solutions, including a sample size calculator to estimate the ideal number of constituent responses for you to record. Google Adwords has a key planner for analyzing keywords that assist in website optimization. The list goes on and on, so don’t be afraid to seek out tools to assist you in better analyzing your organization’s data.

5. Not Enough Data Collection

Rather than being intimidated by data, you should be encouraged by it. There’s always more data for your organization to be looking at, and it’s likely that it can provide insight into all aspects of your organization.

Not sure where to start? Here are some areas where your nonprofit might be able to implement an increase in data collection:

  • Email and Direct Mail
  • Online Fundraising
  • Volunteer and Donor Management
  • Social Media
  • Website Optimization
  • Events


The process of data collection and analysis is an essential practice that deserves your time and effort. It’ll help you gather better insights, increase donor retention and much more.

For a closer look at our research with EveryAction on data in the nonprofit sector, check out our recent report on the state of data in the nonprofit sector.


Randy Hawthorne

As the former Executive Director and Editor for Nonprofit Hub and a Professional Certified Marketer, Randy shares his passions of marketing and education with nonprofits to help them implement marketing and organizational leadership principles so they can grow their organizations. Randy lends his marketing and organizational leadership expertise to a number of nonprofits in his community. Outside the office, Randy works with high school and college students and mentors young professionals to develop their leadership and entrepreneurial skills.

March 21, 2016

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