CoolData blog

11 January 2012

The data-driven organization: Know any?

Filed under: Book — kevinmacdonell @ 11:59 am

I was chatting with Peter Wylie the other day, which we do from time to time, since we are, after all, collaborating on a book which we hope to finish writing in the coming months. The book is about how to bring our institutions, nonprofits, development and advancement offices into the data-driven decision making age.

We got to thinking, are there any institutions (universities, or university advancement departments, or nonprofit organizations) that are  shining examples of data-driven decision making? Is there anyone we can profile in the book as an exemplar?

We can name plenty of data-oriented people who are doing great work as individuals. But what about institutions or departments as a whole? Are there any that employ analytics from top to bottom? Are there any that pass all decision-making processes through a layer of data analysis (if appropriate) before the final stage is reached?

We struggled to come up with non-profit examples. Can you help? Tell us about the organization you’d nominate as data-driven — perhaps it’s your own. Be prepared to explain why. You can remain anonymous, although we would prefer to be able to identify persons and institutions by name. Email me at



  1. Interesting question. Data driven is off target if it isn’t the correct data. What is the specific data you would look for to insure that the organization is not only data driven but relevant data driven? Thanks hope 2012 is a great year

    Comment by jaygoulart — 16 January 2012 @ 10:47 am

    • Thanks – good point. Choosing the truly relevant data, asking the right questions of the data, and coming to valid conclusions are all part of data analysis. Does it get done correctly in the first go-round? Certainly not always. Data analysis is an iterative process. But failing to make use of data is far more costly than the occasional risk in making errors in interpretation. Someone else who responded to me by email said he preferred the term “evidence-driven”. That’s a good term to use, as it emphasizes the fact that we’re not to be led around by the nose by data, but exercising our good judgment about it and building a case to support this or that decision. Unfortunately all we can do here is talk in generalities, while data analysis itself is always about specific questions. I guess all I can say off the top of my head is that understanding our data allows us to not only make decisions (and, we hope, better decisions), but evaluate the results of those decisions — were we right or wrong? — and make adjustments accordingly.

      Comment by kevinmacdonell — 16 January 2012 @ 11:11 am

  2. I think this is a big topic….The short answer to your original question is all nonprofits are data driven….Assuming that data comes in all shapes and sizes….Being data driven doesn’t mean effective or successful. The key just may be uncovering decades of chasing the wrong elements. Just like major league baseball was taken by surprise with saber metrics. I am starting a site dedicated to the NEW science of philanthropy, how we can touch base from time to time. Best j

    Comment by jaygoulart — 16 January 2012 @ 11:06 pm

    • Oh dear. I think we might be working from two very different definitions of “data driven,” Jay. It’s not clear to me what your point is.

      Comment by kevinmacdonell — 17 January 2012 @ 6:02 am

  3. I have been trying to find out this very same thing for part of a self-directed professional development project.

    As Database Manager in Development and Membership Operations, everything I do is data-driven. But to get the entire organization to understand the importance, and better yet, to consider future data needs in project planning, goal setting, and yes, decision-making, is difficult. The organizations who are doing it well probably don’t even know–they just got buy-in from the start and are functioning well ahead of the curve. The ones who are doing it poorly probably don’t know there is a better way. The rest of us who are somewhere in the middle, are doing just enough to remain relevant, but maybe not enough to be a driving force of institutional change. Would love to hear of insitutions who are successfully making a case for data.

    Comment by Kate Bennet — 25 January 2012 @ 12:43 pm

RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URI

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

Create a free website or blog at

%d bloggers like this: