• Sarah Gazi, CAE

Data. If You Don't Have it, Get it!

Sorry, Mr. Gates, content is no longer king. For today’s organizations, data is king (or queen, to be fair). Sure, content is still super important, but how would you even know what content to generate if it weren’t for data? Everything an organization does, both for-profit and non-profit, should be driven by data. Every small and large decision should be data-based. Period.

Any good organization has, and follows, a strategic plan. But what makes a good strategic plan? You guessed it: data. Data should be the first thing reviewed in a strategic planning meeting. This data could and should be anything and everything from financial reports to surveys to recruitment and retention data. Data shows you historical trends, what has worked and what hasn’t, what has been profitable and what hasn’t. It shows what members and customers like and dislike. It shows you were you have been and where you currently are so you know where you need to go in the future.

If decisions at your organization are being made because one or a few key people think something “is a good idea,” then you are doing it wrong. If that idea is not supported by data, then pie meet face. Granted, success can come from random ideas not supported by data, but if there is risk associated, financial or otherwise, then is it worth taking that risk without solid support of data? Only you can answer that question, but as a woman of caution and calculation, I’d say no.

Now, data is great--I’ve made that clear. But if your data is not usable, then you need to address that first. Technology has made it very easy to pull, report, and analyze data with the push of a few buttons. If you need to spend hours getting a membership report or historical financial data, then your likelihood of constantly analyzing your data decreases, and if you aren’t frequently analyzing, then you likely aren’t making data-based decisions.

Invest in association management software. Invest in bookkeeping software. Invest in survey software. Yes, I said “invest” because the definition of “invest” is “the action or process of investing money for profit or material result.” Investing in your data leads to better decisions and better decisions lead to results: good ones, profitable ones.

Some tools you are probably already using give you data for free, like social media platforms. Are you checking your analytics regularly? If not, you need to in order to better understand where your success is, who your audience is, and what content they desire and react to.

Now, let’s look at an example of data usage in action. Let’s say you are planning a conference. First you need a budget.

· What was your revenue and expenses over the past few years?

· How many attendees have you had in the past few years?

· How many exhibitors and sponsors?

You need data.

Then you need a location.

· Where do your attendees want to go?

· Where is there a large concentration of members?

· What locations are affordable and accessible?

You’d look at data.

Then you need to plan your program and agenda.

· What topics do attendees want to learn about?

· What topics have been presented in the past and how well attended were they?

· What days of the week are preferred?

· What times work best for participants?

Data, data, data.

Oh, and then you have to market the event.

· What marketing tools work for your audience?

· What messaging do they respond to?

Yep, data again.

So, in conclusion, if you have data, use it. If you don’t have it, get it. If you have it but can’t use it, then you might as well not have it at all. As an organization, your data is your greatest asset, your greatest tool, and your greatest weapon. Do what it takes to make the most of it. You won’t regret it.

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