With so much information readily available to us, the instinctive response is to use it. If you have the ability to collect data on everything from the number of event attendees to the reach of a social media campaign, it seems reasonable and responsible to track as many data points and gather as much information as you can. But before you get into the weeds of big data, take a moment to consider: what kind of data would your association or nonprofit find useful? What kind of data is necessary to make the kinds of insights your association would find valuable?

Gathering Information

When making data-based decisions, you want to work with a large pool of information. For example, if your association has 100 members, and you survey only the board of directors, your results likely will not reflect the views of the majority of your association. However, if you’re able to get between a fifteen to twenty-five percent response rate from your members, then you have a more accurate picture of your association’s general consensus. Your management firm can take this to the next level by collecting information about not only your association, but data that has been collected from similar organizations. By aggregating data inside as well as outside your organization, your management company can give you a clear picture of how your organization is faring in the context of its own past performance as well as amongst a local, national, and international landscape.

Sifting Through Data

But at what point can data start to confuse more than they explain? A wide pool of data is helpful, but an immense amount of unsorted data can be a hindrance. Data that’s not relevant to your nonprofit’s current goals and trouble spots can distract your board or lead to incorrect decision making. While you want to collect comprehensive data, you should “start with the business objectives that you want to answer – and then go seek out the right data” (Whitler). By first working with your management firm to identify the insights you’re looking for, you can save time and resources by then seeking out specific data sets that fill your needs. However, some necessary information can’t be condensed into a statistical summary.

Supplementing Analytics

Social media and email analytics can tell you strict numbers on how many people are responding to and interacting with your messaging, but they don’t tell you what exactly people think of the content your organization is sharing. This is where qualitative data like comments, responses, and reviews come in. This type of data is more difficult to compile because these kinds of data are harder to simplify down to numbers you can analyze at a glance. But what you can do with this data is find trends – your management firm can look out for which social media posts get the most positive comments and from that, help you develop a social media strategy. They can track which events get the most glowing reviews and use that data to inform how your next big event is planned and executed. 

Combine qualitative data with highly relevant quantitative data, and your association has the ability to make decisions based on highly relevant factors which leads to better results. These types of cross analysis may sound like something closer to the corporate landscape, but in borrowing B2B methods, your association and management firm can improve operations for members, your board of directors, and donors alike.


Couch, Beth, et al. “Donor Development and the Marriage of Quantitative and Qualitative Data.” Non Profit News | Nonprofit Quarterly, 30 Aug. 2018, nonprofitquarterly.org/donor-development-and-the-marriage-of-quantitative-and-qualitative-data/.

Whitler, Kimberly A. “Why Too Much Data Is A Problem And How To Prevent It.” Forbes, Forbes Magazine, 17 Mar. 2018, www.forbes.com/sites/kimberlywhitler/2018/03/17/why-too-much-data-is-a-problem-and-how-to-prevent-it/.