Associations and non-profits fall into one of three categories:
Anti-data. These organizations trust their gut. They are like gamblers who keep spending money because something in the atmosphere feels right.
Fence-sitters. Most associations are here. They appreciate and occasionally make decisions based on a recent collection of data. Sometimes, they use research to inform their Board of a new initiative or as a way to quantify the effectiveness of an event or project. Their toe is in the water, but they have not jumped in.
All-in. Associations and non-profits that aligned their business strategy around a data strategy fit in this category. They devote staff and financial resources toward developing a plan for collecting information. The distinct characteristic of an “all-in” association is one that bases decision making on reliable knowledge.
You’re probably thinking, “I would love to be all-in. It’s not that easy!” You are absolutely right. It is not an easy transition to make. And it won’t happen overnight. But, if you are at least all-in on the idea of being all-in, there are some simple steps you can take to begin developing a data strategy. Here are four steps for creating a data strategy for your association:
Know what you know
Associations and non-profits have so many plates spinning in the air that information is hard to keep centralized and, as a result, difficult to access. Can you relate?
The first, and maybe the most time-consuming, part of developing a data strategy is figuring out where it is. It is a three-step process:
- List all of the sources of information that your association utilizes on a frequent as well as infrequent basis.
- Make a detailed description of each data source (i.e. name of the source, location, format, size, and the method your association uses to integrate the information into daily operation)
- Discuss the elements of the current data based on the culture of your association (i.e. why does it exist? Is it sensitive information? Is it reliable? Who owns the data? What do you typically do with it?)
Take a snapshot of the infrastructure of your association: current mechanisms for operating, the state of your technology, and areas for growth. The result of this conversation may change processes and it may require an investment of human and financial resources, but it’s a key step toward deciding the data strategy that fits your culture.
Let’s pretend that you’ve done the hard work of doing a data inventory. The next step is to creatively think about the types of things you want to know. You know your culture. You know the strengths and weaknesses of your association. What questions do you want to answer with the information you collect? You might wonder about member count, retention rate, event turnout, or website traffic. Here are some questions you might want to ask:
- Who is most likely to become an engaged member?
- Which members are most likely to leave?
- What marketing channels have the most impact?
- What will our revenue look like over the next year?
Align your data strategy with your business strategy
The gist is that data will inform your business strategy and not the other way around. So, like Franklin Covey famously said, “Start with the end in mind.” The ultimate question to ask is:
What defines success?
What metric is important to your association? Is it the number of new member acquisitions? Is it engagement? However you define success, your pathway for getting there will be constantly influenced by the data you collect. Why? Because people and their habits are fluid.
This all means that aligning your data strategy with your business strategy is another way of saying that your association, if it is going to trust in its data, will change its method to accomplish its mission.
Start a small pilot
Transition slowly into the world of data-driven decision-making by starting a pilot. Choose one of the questions you are curious about (i.e. what marketing channel has the most impact?) and run with it. Follow the steps we talked about: inventory, questions, alignment, and let data determine your decisions in a specific area of your organization. Evaluate the process with your team and decide whether or not you want to try it in other areas.
We know this can be overwhelming. Let us know how we can help you become an association that is all-in when it comes to data strategy.