screen of data

The joy and pain of using data

By Sian Basker 21 July 2016

Those of us who run social enterprises and charities collect and use data for a range of purposes. Business experts tell us we could be sitting on a goldmine if only we could harness this amazing resource. Yet some would argue there’s even too much data collection going on. Because in reality most are stumbling around in blizzards of data that is onerous and frustrating to collect, and often delivers analysis that isn’t meaningful, useful, or reliable for decision makers.

At Data Orchard, social entrepreneurs and charity leaders often tell us they know data is important and valuable, they just don’t know how to make it work for their cause. They tell us they are grappling with masses of internal data from spreadsheets, databases, CRM systems, surveys, web/email/social media analytics, finance systems, marketing, fundraising and masses of external data. And whilst advances in technology mean most data ends up being digitised, some charities still collect data on paper forms and keep them in filing cabinets. The commonest complaints we hear are:

‘It’s difficult to make sense of the data. When we pull it all together it’s like comparing apples, oranges, and bananas.’

‘We spend so much time and energy collecting data to report to commissioners and funders we don’t have any capacity left to think about how data can shape our own future.’

‘We collect lots of data but just haven’t got the skills or tools to analyse it. We’re data rich but information poor.’

Excitingly the Data Evolution project has found social sector organisations, big and small, using data to do powerful and transformational things. Examples include: The Trussel Trust, Colalife, Citizens Advice, The Key. They say data is helping them be smarter, more effective, and more influential.

So it is possible. And at Data Orchard, we’re working hard to help understand charity’s needs so we can make it easier for them to do more with data. We’re asking as many charities and social enterprises as possible to complete a 5 minute online survey before 31 July 2016. There is the chance to win £100 and the opportunity to access a more detailed analysis of where your organisation stands with data.

So, wherever you are on your journey with data, the Data Evolution project would like to hear from you. We want to find out what challenges you face and what help you need. Share your data joys and pains with us!

Click here to access the survey.

If you’re interested in exploring these issues further, join us at our annual conference NPC Ignites. We’ll be exploring the vital issues that voluntary sector leaders are facing, including a session on data and digital.