Help! My Nonprofit Needs A Data Nerd and How To Find Them! | Beth's Blog

Help! My Nonprofit Needs A Data Nerd and How To Find Them!


Flickr Photo by Aquariawintersoul

Yesterday, KD Paine and I delivered an NTEN Webinar on measurement based on the ideas in our new book  “Measuring the Networked Nonprofit:  Using Data to Change the World.”    We started off discussing the recently released report from NTEN/Idealware that found that nonprofits collect lots of data, but don’t look at it.    One of the reasons cited in the report and also from participants on the webina:   “We don’t have the skills to analyze, slice and dice, and make sense of our data – so we don’t look at it.”   I hear this too often from nonprofits.

The skills are out there.  We are not talking about a person with a Ph.D from MIT in rocket science.   These skills might be as simple as creating pivot charts on excel, importing data from multiple sources into one spreadsheet for analysis or what DJ Patel calls ‘Data Jujitsu,” doing a statistic analysis, setting up a conversion analysis in google anlaytics, and other technical skills.     Yesterday,  there was a wonderful piece on a Marketplace segment called “Economists go pro bono” that shared a story about a nonprofit in the UK that matches economists with nonprofits:

Economists are a notoriously self-interested bunch. But a British outfit called Pro Bono Economics is giving away its services. The group’s leader is Martin Brookes, a British economist at a hedge fund, who got the idea after a phone call.

“A big U.K. charity called Barnardo’s, which is a children’s charity, rang me up and said could they borrow an economist from me,” Brookes says. “Because they didn’t know where to find them and they couldn’t afford to hire one even if they did know where to find them.”

It struck Brookes that if a large, established charity was soliciting economists, others might well be in need. So along with a few friends he started Pro Bono Economics, a nonprofit that matches U.K. charities with economists willing to donate their time.

“For us,” Brookes says, “the pitch of Pro Bono Economics is that economists are better with a spreadsheet than they are with a paintbrush. And you should marry them up, those economists up with a spreadsheet rather than give them a paintbrush to paint a hut.”

I often hear nonprofits say, “We don’t  have those skills within our organization so we don’t do measurement.”      Well, here is are some  ways to find some data nerds to help you with your measurement and analysis:

1.  Look Within Your Walls: The first place to look is down the hall or ask at your next board meeting.   There may be someone in another department who is a data nerd with expert excel skills.    Ask around.   Or maybe you have a board member who works in the business world and is or has connections to people who work in finance, market research, or analytics.

2.  Recruit Through LinkedIn Board Connect: Earlier this fall, LinkedIn launched “Board Connect” that can facilitate recruitment of new board members or volunteers with professional skills.     I’ve said this many times, but if I was running a nonprofit today, I would sign up for this service and put together an advisory group of data nerds to help with my data and measurement needs.

3.  Get Free Help with Your Google Analytics: The Analysis Exchange has a goal to “dramatically increase the number of people on Earth doing web analytics the right way.”  They provide free web analytics consulting to non-profits and NGOs around the world by matching analytics professionals, students, and charities.   The team works on a practical project that take less than four weeks to complete.
They are teaching digital measurement best practices by connecting great causes with experienced mentors and motivated students.

4.  Find a Data Scientist with a Heart: Data Scientists are in high demand and have an unusual skill set, including:  data jujitsu skills (combine data from different places, clean it, analyze it, and make sense of it).    The organization, DataKind, has the goal of matching Data Scientists with nonprofits to help them better use their data.    So, if you have a pile of data in spreadsheets that hasn’t been analyzed, go find your organization a data scientist.

5.  Get Training : NTEN is offering regular webinars on the topic of how nonprofits can effectively use data.  Leap of Reason offers toolkits for boards, nonprofits, and foundations on “do it yourself” outcomes based measurement.   Or if you are good self-learner and just need to learn a few techniques for creating charts in excel, here’s some terrific video tutorials.

6. Read Sector Blogs That Cover Data: If you want to stay current on data in the nonprofit and philanthropic sector, the best place to go is Lucy Bernholz’s Philanthropy 2173 Blog.   Start with this this post about Data as a buzz word, subscribe to Lucy’s blog, and read  “Navigating the New Social Economy.”    Another place to keep current on data is Markets for Good, an initiative to discover how the social sector can better use and share information to improve outcomes and change lives.    NTEN is also publishing blog posts, articles, and reports and a good place to start is their September NTEN Journal  issue on data.

7.  Hire A Consultant: NTEN’s annual nonprofit technology conference and other events,  you will find an ecosystem of consultants who do measurement, data analysis, and other skills required to make sense of your data.     If you are looking for an evaluation specialist, check out the American Evaluators Association directory.   Or ask around for consultants that your colleagues have used.   (And my co-author, KD Paine, has been doing measurement consulting for nonprofits and businesses for over 25 years)

8.  Become Someone’s Homework: If you have a college or university in your town, why not become someone’s homework?  Both my books, “Networked Nonprofit,” and  “Measuring the Networked Nonprofit” has been added to the syllabus of many college courses – from nonprofit management survey courses, philanthropy, communications,  measurement, and more.   I speak to college students regularly, many times through skype like this group of students in Indiana this past month who shared stories about their internships which often included measurement and spreadsheets.   Some courses, like this one for nonprofits and communications taught by my colleague Shonali Burke, often include a student project working with a nonprofit.

9.   Attend a Data or Measurement Panel at Your Next Nonprofit Conference or Networking Event: This month, the Independent Sector had a packed house for the Data 360 Panel and put together this set of resources.   Last year, there was a panel at the NTC on Nonprofit Data Visualization and there will be many more in 2013.   If you go to a session at a nonprofit conference, you will probably not only find data nerds presenting, but the room might just be packed with them too.

So, if you are not using data or measurement because your organization does not have someone with the skills,  there are ways around this challenge!   Has your organization from a data nerd to help you?  What’s your story?

17 Responses

  1. Joe says:

    Don’t forget that Information Scientists and Librarians are often data nerds, too. This is a good overview of how librarians and other LIS graduates are involved,

  2. […] Yesterday, KD Paine and I delivered an NTEN Webinar on measurement based on the ideas in our new book  "Measuring the Networked Nonprofit:  Using Data to Change the World."    We started off discussing the recently released report from…  […]

  3. Sarah Mowry says:

    Dang I need a data nerd! Great resource thanks for sharing and helping me realize I not the only one who never gets to this!!

  4. Beth Kanter says:

    Sarah: You’re not alone! There’s lot of expertise out there — and lots for free.

  5. Fantastic post.

    Data nerd for hire here! As a former Obama for America Deputy Data Director, I spent my days extracting data from multiple sources (database reports, VAN, Google documents) and using Excel pivot tables to compile standard and adhoc productivity reports that measured the effectiveness of our 20,000+ volunteer grassroots ground game in Maryland and more importantly in the battleground state of Virginia.

    Before OFA, I worked as a project manager and business analyst in an IT environment so once the data is compiled, it’s important to make meaningful changes to process and procedures to maximize the organization’s capacity and effectiveness. Otherwise, having the data is meaningless.

    If you’re looking to hire a data nerd, checkout my LinkedIn profile – – I’d love to use these skills to further a good cause!

  6. Katie Paine says:

    thanks for the shout out! this is great stuff. i get this question all the time, as you know.

  7. Monica says:

    Great suggestions. I discovered these tutorials recently that teach you how to set-up various different graphs – complete with demos and sources:

  8. Jenn says:

    This is a great list of thoughts and resources, thanks for taking the time to compile them!

    If you’re in the Boston area, Google hosts periodic free, one-on-one training for nonprofits in how to use their Analytics and Apps products, and possibly others. I’m hoping to see the practice spread to other places that Google has offices.

    My company has begun a series of tutorials on how non-technical people can use Google Fusion Tables to visualize your data on maps: a good start is here:

    Hope this is helpful!

  9. Beth Kanter says:

    Just found a fantastic site and materials and adding them to this post:

  10. I was intrigued by the NPR story on Pro Bono Economists. It presents a true opportunity for viral spread of concept. And to your point, Beth, I say “bring on the data therapy!”

  11. Beth says:

    Here’s another source of tech volunteers from Npower NY

  12. steve raw says:

    Thank you for sharing this, lots of information I am going to read this again and again as there are so many links to look up. I am going to retweet this is important stuff.

  13. FlatMerge says:

    You may not need a “nerd”… There are many free and easy to use tools to help you use your own data. It is easier than you might think! Google Fusion tables and Google Charts are great analysis and presentation tools, and is a simple storage tool for sharing (API).

  14. […] Help! My Nonprofit Needs A Data Nerd and How To Find Them! […]

  15. Kellie Ciofalo says:

    Data nerd with hours available:

  16. Beth says:

    Thanks Kellie