How to convince skeptics to invest in data strategy and analytics

Part 1 in a series on data usage

To some executives, the benefits of being “data-driven” are self-evident. Certainly this reflects our own bias: We strongly believe that actionable data, targeted to your organizational goals, will usually improve the quality of decision-making. This is particularly true for digital outreach. With the right systems in place, your audience’s digital behaviors can be tracked and analyzed systematically, enabling you to continuously improve the relevance and effectiveness of communication. 

Yet, if this is true, why do so many managers seem to fear data, rather than embrace its transformative potential? Many in the mission-driven space simply don’t get how audience data meaningfully connects to their day-to-day work. Meanwhile, our clients often tell us about colleagues who are actively subverting their efforts to increase data usage. 

 These challenges are real. It’s important to understand them if we hope to change organizational behaviors, and build data-driven cultures that strengthen the loyalty of our most important stakeholders. 


Why is it valuable to improve how your team uses data?

 Chances are, you already have some sense that data can help you and your organization do its work more effectively. Still, it helps to make the case for data and analytics explicitly. Here’s why we believe that improved data usage can be transformational for teams that manage external outreach. 

Data saves you time and helps you be more effective in your communications.

Why bother continuing to invest your time and money in strategies that aren’t effective? Is that really why any of us come to work every day? Life is short, and your resources are limited, so let’s harness data to understand what’s working—and let go of what’s not. Regardless of your team’s current level of data sophistication, we promise that improved analytics can help you find relatively straightforward strategies to better engage audiences using existing talent and resources. 

Data inspires fresh curiosity about the people you serve every day, and helps you test your team’s assumptions.

Your colleagues may think they already know everything they need to know about their clients and customers… but is it possible that there are blind spots? Data can be a powerful myth-buster, a means of pressure-testing widely held assumptions that may (or may not) reflect a reality that, in most of our areas of work, is constantly changing. 

Data expertise helps you be proactive in driving discussions about success with funders and board members.

Boards and donors are increasingly data-savvy. However, they don’t necessarily know the right questions to ask, or the metrics that best reflect whether or not your team is achieving its mission. When you invest in finding and gathering data that actually measures your success in meeting organizational goals (as opposed to superficial metrics), you’re in a much stronger position to lead conversations and direct attention toward what matters most.  

Data helps you drive strategic alignment between differing units.

A lot of stalled progress at organizations comes from disagreement between leaders on the realities of their work. Data can be used to bring decision makers together across departments and units, enabling key strategic conversations that wouldn’t otherwise happen, focused around a single point of truth. 

Data empowers you to lead change, rather than letting change happen to you.  

Some people are afraid of the knowledge they’ll get through data. However, we believe it’s better to know what’s not yet perfect, and make some useful changes, rather than have change forced upon you against your will. 


So, why aren’t more mission-driven organizations making better use of data? 

These are powerful arguments. Yet there are equally powerful personal and organizational incentives that stand in the way of them being fully embraced by all of your colleagues. Stay tuned for upcoming posts in which we’ll discuss these barriers more fully, and share practical strategies to overcome them.