Employed for Good

A nonprofit professional's take on doing well while doing good.

The Power of Data, Part 2: How Data Can Benefit Your Career

As a nonprofit employee, I am a big believer of data.

Spreadsheet addiction aside, it’s an incredible thing to be able to apply metrics and research to inform a larger strategy. Data has real implications for the social sector and a nonprofit’s ability to create impact.

Yet while the global potential for data is huge, this potential also exists on an individual level. Applying a data-driven approach to our careers affords us the ability to be more productive and capable workers. 

This is the second piece in this two-part data series. We already explored how data works to benefit nonprofits and the communities they serve. Now it’s time to see how data can help us in our own careers.

Tracking our progress and success at work is essential to career advancement. By employing a data-centered approach to our careers, we can:


1. Work smarter

Which tasks do you spend the most time on? Are there things that don’t receive as much attention as they should? By using data to determine where we put our energy and for how long, we can make deliberate shifts in our approach to keep us productive.


2. Work quicker

We can also use data to finish tasks more quickly. By identifying the areas that eat up valuable work time (i.e., meetings we don’t need to attend, follow-up tasks that can be avoided with a simple process tweak), we can start to exercise more control over how quickly we accomplish goals.

In my role for example, I have a quota to hit for external meetings each month. At first, I would blindly send out invitations in sporadic bursts and then stop altogether when I got discouraged. (It is amazing how many people don’t respond to emails, no?) By tracking my efforts, I realized that sending a certain number of invites each week – and not on Monday morning – made it more likely that I’d hit my target. Not only am I a saner person now, but this insight helps me to book meetings more quickly!


3. Get better

By working smarter and quicker, we get better at our jobs. Data can certainly impact our physical work, but there’s something about our mindset that also changes with this type of approach. When we start to look at our roles as the sum of smaller parts – tasks and responsibilities that can be tweaked or modified for the benefit of our organization – we get better at identifying areas where we can grow and enhance.


4. Sing Our Own Praises

Everyone needs to be their own advocate at the office. After all, no one knows more about what you do than you do…so you ought to know exactly what that is! Determine how much time your efforts take and what your results look like. Then, use that intel in conversations with your boss – the major player in the game that is your career. By having hard data points to speak on, you can lay out your contributions to the organization more fully and highlight your worth. This is how you move up the ladder.


Now that we have some idea of how data can help our careers, where do we go from here?


Be reasonable and start small.

Don’t try to analyze every single thing that you do at your job! Focus on what makes sense. You might have a long term project where it makes sense to track how many hours you spend on it. Or, maybe you want to track smaller tasks across your different responsibilities. Figure out which aspects of your role are high priority and focus on those first.


Pick your data points.

How many outreach emails did you send last year? How will finding the answer help you this year? Consider how specific insights can inform your job duties. Then, create data points based on those answers.

Tip: Your data points should align with the crux of your responsibilities. But if you’re at a loss for where to start, here are some examples to give you ideas:

If you’re a volunteer coordinator, keep track of the number of volunteers you recruit for your nonprofit’s events. How many of them are you able to retain year-to-year and how often do you send them communications?

For a development officer, the amount of money that you bring in is an obvious metric. Of the total amount that your team raised last quarter, what percentage of that can be attributed to your efforts? How do your email campaigns perform (opens v.s clicks v.s donations) and how many successful campaigns have you spearheaded this year?

If you work in a direct services or customer support role, keep track of the number of cases you handle each week and whether you handle those in-person, via email or over the phone. You could also categorize the types of issues that you handle in order to identify trends.

Finance coordinators basically keep the lights on. If this is you, you could keep a tally of how many donations you process (and what the value of those gifts are). You could also track vendor communications because those relationships are important!


Decide on your system and stick with it.

No single system is capable of perfectly capturing everything that you do. With that understanding, try to pick the best system for tracking your data points above.

Tip: Excel is my favorite tool for this because of how easy it is to categorize, sort, and quantify tasks. For tracking blocks of time, try using calendar holds. Similar to scheduling work blocks to get tasks done ahead of time, adding blocks after-the-fact is an easy way to track your hours. If your organization uses a CRM-like platform, you could also log your activities in those systems (so long as you know how to pull reports to track your progress).

At the end of the day, do whatever works best. A notebook and pen can be the perfect system – all that matters is that you update it regularly and reference it later on!


Have fun with it.

Fun might be a strong word, but you know what I mean. Just because tracking your efforts is beneficial to your career doesn’t make it easy. Remember that this is all on your terms, so don’t drive yourself crazy trying to get it all right at once. Like all great things, this is a work in progress!

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