How to improve your data collection and impact reporting
Reporting how much impact you have is a vital part of your charity’s work. How do you ensure you’re collecting the right data? How do you get your team on board with data collection? How does impact reporting fit into your strategy?
Chloe Parker has been working with charities and their data since 2015. She’s passionate about demystifying data and reporting and making it into something everyone can do rather than just ‘techy’ people. She has helped people in the charity sector go from being afraid of using tech to being confident in their reporting and data abilities. If your charity is moving away from spreadsheets to a new database or is having problems with your database, Chloe can help: https://www.coreinsightsuk.com/
Resources and links
Hello, everyone, and welcome to the Charity Professional Development Webcast, an opportunity for you to learn, develop, and contribute more to your cause. Today, we are joined by Chloe Parker, who will be talking to us about effective data collection and impact reporting. Chloe has been working with charities and their data since 2015. She’s passionate about demystifying data and reporting, and making it into something everyone can do – rather than just those techie people! She helps people in the charity sector go from being afraid of using tech to being confident in their data and reporting abilities. Chloe, it’s lovely to have you. And I will hand over to you.
Thanks for having me, Zac. Thanks for having me, everyone else; it’s great to have you here today. I’m just going to share my screen so you can see some slides. Hopefully, that has come up for you now. And, thanks for the introduction. I’m going to talk to you today about effective impact reporting, and how you can improve your data collection and impact reporting in your role at your charity.
Before we start, just a little bit about me. I work with charities around helping them to find the right database or to help them in the existing database when they come across problems, CRM systems or that type of thing. And you can find out more on my website, or if you’ve got any questions after this, feel free to drop me an email on firstname.lastname@example.org, as well.
We’re going to talk about impact reporting. And to enable us to have a bit of context for that, we’re going to talk about something called the Impact Wheel, which is essentially a way of thinking about your data, how you can use it to measure your impact, and what you’re doing within your organisation. It’s based on a plan-do-review type model but it’s all to do with data.
First of all, when you’re thinking about your data, you want to think about what you actually want or need to report on. So, what are the types of data that you want to collect? Who are your different audiences that you’re collecting them for? And why do you need them?
And then, once you’ve done that, you’ll actually need to start collecting your data. So having a think about what tools can improve your data collection, and how you can improve any existing tools that you already have. Even if it’s Excel spreadsheets or paper forms, those are all tools that you can use for data collection as well.
The next step, when you’ve got your data, is to do some analysis. And you might do some internal reporting, you might gain some insights from the data that you’ve collected, you also might do some reporting to your stakeholders as well. So funders, trustees, anyone else who sits inside or outside your organisation.
The final bit of the impact wheel, which quite often gets lost. Quite often, what I’ve seen is this is actually more of a straight line, rather than a circle or a wheel. But to close this gap, you really want to think about reviewing your data or using your data to review your services, but also to change what data you collect as well.
You might find that you have a drop-off in the number of people coming to your drop-in, for example. And your data can help you highlight that. And then you can start thinking, “Okay, why are people dropping off?”. Can we start to ask them that question of “why people are dropping off?”.
Or you might have had the opposite problem recently, where you’ve got lots of different people who are coming along to your services, really increased demand for your services. And that can help you think about, “okay, how can we use this to prove that we require more resources and funding to go into our organisation?”.
So, it’s a really simple tool that you can use just to think about how you’re using your data. And I’ll go through some tips for each of the stages of the Impact Wheel as well.
Just to mention that it doesn’t just have to be used in impact reporting, you could also use this in your fundraising data as well. So thinking about the data that you collect on your supporters, how you store that data, how you report on that data, and then how you can use that to change your fundraising strategy or the data that you collect on your supporters as well.
We’re thinking how well you’re doing on the impact will at the moment, and are there some barriers that you think could be stopping you in any of those points? So, it could be funding for a CRM system, if you want to move away from spreadsheets, it could be the time to sit down and reflect it could be the skills you need for reporting. So just have a little think about what are some of the barriers and how could you think about overcoming some of them. And again, I’ll share some tips from my time working with charities.
For the first part – which is data defining – is to really think about your KPIs or impact measurement. And you can use something like a theory of change to develop an outcomes framework that can help you lay out what data you need to collect.
And then, also, what else needs to be collected for other people? So whether it’s funders, whether you want to collect certain things for yourself as well. So it’s not just about impact measurement, it can also be about how people are feeling or, or things like that.
And it’s always good to take a step back at this point as well, rather than to really be in the database, take a step back and think about, “what do we actually need to report on?”, “what are we collecting that we don’t actually need to collect anymore?”, “what has changed within our services?”. That might mean that we need to change what data we collect.
As well, some tips for data collection is to get the right tools for the job. So think about different CRM systems that you could use, or even if you’re using Excel, just making sure that those spreadsheets are set up really well for data collection.
Also to do some housekeeping. And I’ll talk a little bit about that in a moment. And also just to regularly review the tools that you’re using for data collection as well, making sure that they’re up to date and used by the team.
So, the question again, is, how often do you actually review the fields in your database or the columns in your spreadsheet? Is it something that never happens, and when you click on a drop-down, you’ve got a million different options that nobody ever uses? It’s a really good thing to do to keep your database or your spreadsheet quite clean. And, if you’re not, if you want to have a think about how often you might want to do it, I’d recommend looking at it every six to 12 months, or every time that you have a big change in your strategy, which might mean that your data collection needs to change as well.
My next question for you is what do you think is the most important thing to ensure that you collect and manage good data? A lot of the time, when I ask this question, people come back to me and say things like, “we need to have a better database”, “we need to have more training within our team”. And those are really important. But I would say that the most important thing is actually your people. So the people who are using your system on a daily basis, your staff, people who are doing all the different stages of the impact wheel.
And I’m going to tell you a story. Because there’s somebody called Elizabeth who I meet quite often in my role. And so quite often, what happens is, Elizabeth will think we want to move away from spreadsheets, quite rightly. So we want to move to a database, and she thinks, “my team are really busy, I don’t want to put pressure on them, I’m going to go away and find them a system that can help with that”.
Elizabeth’s team then get given this new database, they have a little bit of training. But what quite often happens is a couple of years down the line, people move on, the team aren’t really bought into the system, and the database just becomes a little bit unusable, you might as well throw it in the bin. And the team are frustrated and needs to spend a bit of time and money either to re-look for another system or to make the system work for you.
So, if you are thinking about investing in a new system, the process that I tend to go through is a four-step process with organisations. And it’s really about bringing the team in as much as possible throughout the process to find the right database, gathering requirements from all different team members, your frontline staff, the people who are engaging with your service users is really important, helping them to say what their problems are, what they want to do differently, how the database can help them, then going out and actually looking at systems.
So, getting demonstrations of different systems. It can be quite time-consuming. And people quite often feel like they don’t have time to go to all the demonstrations. But by seeing the systems work and seeing how they can be using the systems it can really help with buy-in later on.
And, also, it’s a bit of initial training for people thinking, “Oh, this is the new system; this is how I’m going to use it”. And then selecting the system together as a team. So, making sure that you are all making the decision on what system to move ahead with, rather than one person handing over the database to the team. And that more collaborative approach helps you with buy-in and helps the team to feel more empowered in this new database that they’re bringing in.
If you go away with anything today, I’d recommend this: if you are going to look for a new system, help people be involved. And if you’ve already started that process, or you’ve even invested in a new system recently, the best thing to do is to still try and bring people in at each stage. So, help them to have their voices heard when things need to change, or if they need to have more training. It’s a really important thing to get your people on board with your technology.
Another thing that I quite often see is there’s not many people who got into the charity sector to collect data. And so having those conversations with people, and really helping them to ensure that they get sufficient training to be able to use the system is really important.
Something to reflect on might be the challenges and frustrations from your team that stopped data collection. So, what are you hearing from people that are stopping them from collecting data?
And – you might not have differences – but quite often I see differences between fundraising and frontline teams. And if there are, how can you help those different teams to change the way they think about data collection, or to tackle some of these challenges or frustrations, as well?
Some common challenges and fears that I’ve seen from different teams. On the left are some of the challenges, which is the benefits of data collection just aren’t shared; people don’t feel like they know why they’re collecting data.
There’s not much empowerment. So quite often people feel like we’re collecting this data because we need it for our funders, rather than because we can use this to help our services and help improve how we work with our service users.
Quite often there’s a lack of confidence or skills in using different technology. People not feeling bought in, which we’ve talked about already.
And, also, quite common, a subtle challenge or fear is a fear of job losses or job changes. So, “when this new system comes into play, my whole job is going to change”, “I’m going to need to spend more time doing data collection”, or “I’m not going to be needed anymore, because this new system is going to come in and take away all of my roles”.
So some things that you can do to help with some of those challenges is to improve the reporting, helping making reporting accessible to everybody. Helping them to actually use their data, and use that regularly in your decision making.
If there’s a lack of confidence, you can invest in training or more accessible systems for people. There’s a lack of buy-in, as we talked about earlier, make sure everybody’s voice is heard at all different stages of your data collection.
And, if there’s a fear of job losses or job changes, listen to people and reassure them, help them to think about how their roles can change for the better, and how they can improve their skills to be able to do that as well.
You might have another challenge within your team, which is that you think, “great, I really want a new system now, but I know that my manager or my trustees don’t want a new database”.
Some things that can help you to build a business case, is to think about: how much time is currently spent on data collection within your team? Is all the data in one place for you? Or is it all over the place in lots of different spreadsheets? And what are some of the challenges that that’s creating for you? Is there certain information that they’re asking from you that you can’t give them because of your current systems? You can also speak to other charities and organisations who are using systems as well. And think about the cost-benefit analysis of what a new system can bring you.
We’ve talked about data collection, I just wanted to talk a little bit about data reporting, and thinking about using the right tools and to automate as much as possible.
So using the right tools, and when you’re investing in reporting, is what systems do you already have? Do you already have a database that has inbuilt reporting? Do you have Excel? Do you have any other tools like Power BI? How could you improve what you already have? Are there any areas where you could automate some of your reporting to make it more easily accessible? Will your current system meet your needs long term, or do you think it needs to think about another system that might have better reporting for you? Is there any additional training you need? And also who’s interested in the data? And how can we present it to them in different formats? You can also think about what questions you want to be answered but you never can, and which tools help you in your reporting at the moment.
I’ve just listed some tools here as well that you can start using. And do get in touch if you’ve got questions about any of the tools that I’ve listed above.
The final bit – the most important bit – is your strategic review, and to really close that gap on the Impact Wheel.
It’s a really good idea to make data part of your strategy days. So having a dashboard of your different KPIs or impact that you’re making, and use it to help inform decision-making. But data alone can’t answer all your questions. So you need to combine it with anecdotal feedback from your service users, from your staff, from other people, other organisations that you’re working with as well before you make some big decisions based just off your data.
And have a think about what areas of your data you regularly check in on and review. And where you would like to do more as well, if you want to do something in this area. And I’m coming towards the end.
So hopefully, what we learned today is that there’s probably a lot of people who are in the same situation as you. Hopefully, this was reassuring for you that if some of these things resonated that there are a lot of charities who are in the same situation. That you can use the impact wheel to see what’s missing in your data collection. Excel spreadsheets aren’t necessarily bad, but using them properly is a good way to get more from your data. And a good next step is to invest in tools and reporting. But most of all, people are your most important asset.
Possible next steps… is not to feel overwhelmed. I’ve gone through quite a lot of material today in this short space of time. And just be aware that this journey might be a long one and ongoing. Your first next step might be to do a bit more research, chat to your team, you might decide to go and have a cleanup of your database, or speak to your database provider, you might decide to look for a new system, or invest in reporting or training.
And here’s my contact details if you want to get in touch. And hopefully, that was helpful for you today.
Chloe, thank you so much. Yes, that was absolutely helpful; I am certain that it is.
I love the context of the Impact Wheel. I think it’s very easy when we do – I mean – anything, in charity, but certainly the things like data collection, to see it as removed from our ultimate cause and what we’re actually in existence to do. So, really bringing it back and reminding ourselves, we’re collecting this data so that we can help our beneficiaries or help in whatever way we’ve set ourselves up as a charity to help.
I love the reminders of keeping data clean and tidy. I’m forever keeping things clean and tidy. But I know how important it is.
And also remembering that, while we are thinking about numbers and letters in a spreadsheet or in a database, wherever it might be, actually, it’s all about the people using it. How does it help our people? And can our people better… do they feel empowered, and able, to use our database?
And the other thing I wanted to pick up on that you mentioned quite briefly, but I think it’s quite important is the scalability piece. Having a system that’s capable of doing what you need it to do before you need it to do it is important. You don’t want to backtrack, having grown to a point and have your system not be ready for it. So that was really useful. Thank you so much. And I will hand back over to you for a final thought, if you’d like to share one before we close.
Oh, good question.
I put you on the spot there, apologies.
Yeah, no, that’s fine. I think it is just that thing about, think about the reason that you’re doing it. And I think that’s quite often what I see, is people feel like data collection is a chore. And so trying to help them to see the benefits of it as much as possible can help, in turn, to improve data collection. I think that will be my main takeaway: all about the people.
Brilliant, lovely place to end. And thank you again, and we will see everyone next time.
Thanks for having me.