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Nonprofit Leadership + Analytics Post

Here is a glimpse of my yesterday’s prospect call (I am sharing it to make a point). We were talking about setting up a data collection plan for the nonprofit.


Prospect (a Senior Executive Director by title): Meena, is there anything I can do in my team (of 7) so they learn about data collection.


I knew this question was not just about data collection but his interest in supporting his staff. So, I shared a broader response than the data itself.


Me: Hmm, from my experience, the best way an individual contributor learns is at least one of the three ways:

investing in professional development, experience, and networking.


i. Investing in professional development means providing your staff with the budget, support, and good faith that what they will learn is coming back to your work.

ii. Experience means they (staff) will learn by hit and miss, experimentation in their work. Though it will take slightly longer than a PD learning to grasp all lessons, it is most effective – because the lessons they learn from experience stick longer. Also, here you are expected to provide support via different budgeting (e.g., helping them acquire some new tools for work).

iii. Networking means they (staff) are encouraged (from you) to go out and connect with their peers of other organizations – locally and nationwide, same sector or different. That way, they listen and share ideas and challenges. You are helping to create a tangential support system for them. It doesn’t need your budget but your commitment to creating space in their day for them to network in the community effectively.


He listened to my response and nodded. And then he added.


Prospect: Is there anything I can do to make them ask better questions without these options of PD and networking? I guess experience will come as it comes.


I paused and smiled – mainly to collect my million thoughts on that statement and replied.


Me: From all our conversations so far, I understand what’s behind that question. But there are no shortcuts or easy fixes on this route. Asking a better question – that’s not a pill. That’s a habit and discipline you are hoping to develop. You are not looking for one single webinar or one leadership email. Instead, you are looking for sparking curiosity in your team. That requires some work – both from your team AND you.


And when I hear your question – my mind wonders if you (as the leader) are committed to doing the needed homework?


Curiosity leads to asking better questions. Better questions lead to clearer why. Better why leads to good-struggle and healthy challenging of status quo in data and data collection.


Lead your team by example. Show and share curiosity. And, as you are doing it, remember that you don’t have to reinvent the wheel. Take support from the community as you are building your data-driven team – seek those learning opportunities (as PD) and reach out to your peers for tangential learning.

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We talked for longer…


The point I want to share here is – culture influences data, research, and analytics practices within it.


There is no replacement for the leadership’s commitment to continuous learning and leading a team from a place of authenticity as the team builds a better relationship with data.

A fabulous job description for the data scientist you might hire will not make an organization data driven.