Don’t dodge your data: Start planning NOW

We’ve seen a trend in our data collection work lately, and we think it’s time to be candid. For many reasons (including busy schedules, expiring COVID-era funds, stagnant procurement processes, and grant deadlines that sneak up on you), nonprofit and government agencies have boxed themselves in – which has led to rushed data gathering.

How long does it take to collect meaningful data? Here’s a hint: If you haven’t started yet, you’re probably behind schedule. Rushing to collect data has two primary effects: 1) you’ll gather less information overall, and 2) you’ll be scrambling to figure out what the data means and what you should do with it. If you’re staring down a survey or a needs assessment with less than 6 months until your deadline, your data quality is at risk.

Good news. It doesn’t have to be this way, friends.

Effective data collection takes time, and the amount of time needed depends on the complexity of your project. No matter what, you need a plan that includes meaningful questions, up-to-date contact information, reasonable data collection timing, strategies for clear-cut data analysis, and impactful reporting (don’t forget great graphics!). On top of that, if you need external support to accomplish the task, finding the best resource will take time. (And if your process requires an RFP, you’ll need to add an extra 3-6 months to your data collection schedule.)

We’ll cut to the point: your data sources (including clients, partner organizations, and community residents) aren’t focused on meeting your deadlines. Your kind request for participation isn’t urgent for them, even if they are willing to help. So if you drag your feet, that’s not their problem. It’s on you to get started, reduce barriers, and make it easy for data to flow in.

Today we’ll share one suggestion. Grab your calendar and carve out 20 minutes in the next two weeks to get a head start on your data processes. In that protected block, identify every project currently on your plate that requires data collection during the next 12 months. Make a list, then identify two steps that need to be taken within the next 30 days to get data collection started.

You can do this, but you need to get moving! Don’t dodge your data and put it off until the last minute. That will just make things harder.

(Oh, and if you need a helping hand, drop us a line.)