Five Tips to Design a Successful Data Training Program for Nonprofits

When I think about all the ways that data training can transform your nonprofit, it sounds like a miracle cure. Data training can help your team think critically about processes, connect their work to the mission of your organization, and increase the overall quality of information and decision making, among many other benefits. 

I know this because I’ve run several data training programs for nonprofits, and I see the transformation every time. It’s so impactful because in every case, the staff knew a lot more about data than they previously realized. So with a little coaching, they were able to make a lot of progress. 

But data training requires careful planning. It’s an investment of time across your organization. So for people out there who want to start a data training program at their nonprofit, here are five ideas that can set you up for success.

1. Find an executive sponsor.

The first thing you need to do is find an executive to champion this training program. If that’s you, congratulations. Otherwise, data training programs need an executive sponsor. Your data won’t improve unless improvement is a clear priority.

2. Send out a survey to your staff.

When you survey everyone who will get trained, you’ll be able to understand their overall data literacy and biggest data challenges.

Not sure where to get started? Here is a survey template you can use

Your goal should be to design a data training program that is rooted in real-world challenges.  

Something to keep in mind: in my experience, social workers and program managers underestimate their skills and abilities. Yet their process knowledge is so important to good data collection. A data training program should be empowering, helping them to recognize their process knowledge as data knowledge.

data training for nonprofits picture of session
The pandemic didn’t stop our clients from upping their data knowledge!

3. Invite people with process knowledge.

Speaking of social workers and program managers, I’ve found that the people who know the most about your organization will do the best at training.

So when you design your data training program, be sure to include people with deep process knowledge, even if they doubt their own IT skills. There’s another benefit to this as well, because…

4. Use data to connect details to the big picture.

I’ve noticed a disconnect between people collecting data and organizational leadership. Sure, some people are only interested in entering data into a system. And it’s also true that some executives will set goals without understanding how data is collected in the first place. 

Data training presents an opportunity to address this disconnect by creating a dialogue about data between levels of management. This helps the people on the ground connect their data to the bigger picture, and for your board and executive team to understand more about what’s happening on the front line.

5. Give it time and make some space.

I’ve run several data training programs for nonprofits, and successful programs last long after the actual training. This is because they set aside time regularly to solve data problems together.

A good data training program does two things. It gives everyone a basic understanding of data and how important it is. And it sets up a way to carry on in the future. This team should meet regularly to discuss data-related issues in your nonprofit, helping data play a central role in your operation.

If you’re thinking about running your own data training program, I’m happy to share more about my experience and help you think it through. Please book a time on my calendar!

Carly Sessions

Carly is a social worker turned technologist who is passionate about using data to improve the social safety net.