At a Glance
These days every organization is thirsty for a steady supply of nutritious data to help it grow and prosper. Studies show that companies using data analytics to make decisions see dramatic benefits including:
- Improved performance
- Faster decision-making
- Increased productivity
In this three-part series, we’ll dive into:
- Collecting data: What and how much data is important?
- Storing data: Is it secure? Is it easily accessible to those who need it?
- Using data: How can sharing data help grow your organization?
capturing data that’s good to the last drop
These days every organization is thirsty for a steady supply of nutritious data to help it grow and
prosper. A recent survey from Harvard Business Review that focused on how corporations are using data to impact decision-making found that companies using data analytics to make decisions see dramatic benefits:
Insufficient data makes it difficult to grow, but too much data can be overwhelming. That’s why it is so important to understand how to collect, store, and use data in ways that will help your nonprofit or business flourish. And of course, security should be built in to protect against leaks at every stage.
At Billhighway, we collect, store, and analyze data for many of our clients. Along the way, we learned a thing or two about harnessing the power of data to do more good. We’ve taken what we’ve learned and combined it with research and industry standards to create a set of data best practices we hope you’ll find helpful.
If your organization is on board with many of these, then you’re already riding the data wave. If you find that you’re struggling to keep your head above water, perhaps you’ll find a life preserver or two here.
Turning on the Spigot: Collecting Data
Big data has become a buzzword in the business community. Experts divide big data into four dimensions:
- Volume – the scale of data: An estimated 2.5 quintillion bytes of data are created each day.
- Velocity – the analysis of streaming data: By 2016, it’s projected there will be 18.9 billion
- Variety – different forms of data: 4 billion hours of video; 400 million tweets; 30 billion pieces of content shared on Facebook.
- Veracity – uncertainty of data: Poor data quality costs the U.S. economy about $3.1 trillion a year.
Big data is a fire hose of information that comes from web browsers, social networks, censuses, surveillance, and sensors. It can be stored in the form of text, visual images, and videos. Your organization contributes to the public big data feed simply by having a website and posting on social networks.
But quality of data matters. Nearly 1 in 3 business leaders don’t fully trust the information they use to make decisions. So it’s doubly important that while big data is streaming above us in the cloud, you make sure the data you are intentionally collecting – call it small data or traditional data – is accurate, accessible and secure.
While your organization may not have the budget to hire data scientists to help you mine big data for insights, you can still use the small or traditional data you’re already collecting to make strategic decisions and get actionable results. You are likely collecting small data in a variety of ways, including through your customer or membership management systems, financial and accounting software, and web transactions.
Take Action: Consider an annual review of the kinds of data you are collecting and what you’re using it for.
Collect only what you need
The first step in managing the flow of traditional data through your business or nonprofit is controlling the source. Like most of us, you want clean data, not storm water run off that contains who knows what. It also needs to include the right kind of nutrients to feed, not fatten, your organization.
You might be collecting member or customer contact information, data on buying habits, or credit card or bank account information to complete purchase transactions. Like filling a water balloon, the more you collect, the more your resources are stretched to contain it all.
Sounds pretty simple, right? But the longer your organization has been collecting data, the more likely you are to be collecting data you don’t need.
Screen, Filter, Verify
Once you’ve decided what kind of data you need to collect, make sure that you’re collecting it from reliable sources.
- To keep data secure, consider electronic input portals via websites and mobile devices.
- Avoid taking information over the phone, particularly payment information.
- If customers are mailing in forms, route them through a lockbox that electronically scans in the information and checks for errors.
- Make sure that the data you capture is as clean and accurate as possible when it enters your organization’s database.
- A robust web form is worth the investment as it can correct errors such as invalid zip codes, dates that are out of range, and unreadable characters.
- Sites that accept credit cards should adhere to industry standard algorithms that verify credit card information.
- The Federal Reserve validates bank routing numbers for sites that accept ACH payments.
Putting data on a diet
One association discovered they were collecting members’ birth dates in their online membership form, but didn’t know why. It turns out that a former membership director wanted to send out birthday cards to members, a nice idea, but one that wasn’t practical in terms of cost or staff time as membership grew.
Identity thieves often scan for birth dates and social security numbers. By stripping birth dates from the association’s records, they were able to downsize their data and at the same time minimize a potential security risk.
By automating your data collection and payment processing, not only are you gathering better data and processing payments more quickly and accurately, you’ll also be freeing your staff from the headache of manual data entry and invoicing.
Test the waters
To keep member, donor, or customer information up-to-date, make it worth your customer’s time to update their profile when something changes.
Are dues reduced when a member retires? Will moving out of state require new credentials? Is a customer spending at a level that makes them eligible for a frequent buyer discount? Plan a regular communications campaign to keep these points top-of-mind for your members/customers.
Stories of hackers gaining access to sensitive data are regularly featured in the news. Often hackers are seeking credit card or other payment data, which they then turn around and sell or use. One of the best ways to prevent a breach of your customer or member data is not to keep it in the first place.
Take Action: Consider outsourcing payment processing to a third-party payment engine and leave the storing of credit card and bank account information to the payment processing experts.
protecting data & devices
Electronic devices come equipped with passcode features and networks require passwords for a reason. Though it may be tempting to disable passcodes or use the same password for different networks and devices, don’t give in.
Your data is worth protecting. Neil Rubenking at PC Magazine strongly recommends using
a password manager. Among Neil’s top ticks are:
- Lastpass 3.0
- Password Box Premium
- 1U Password Manager
- Dashlane 3
- Lastpass Premium 3.0
- Sticky Password Premium