Skip to main content

Data Traps: Breaking Free

Data Trap [dey-tuh trap, dat-uh trap]

  1. Tracking data for the sake of tracking and using more resources than the actual project would have taken. 

Information overload is a risk to grantmakers and grantseekers as they navigate the shift from transactional to transformational philanthropy. Collecting, analyzing, and using data to document impact is becoming increasingly important as grantmakers and grantseekers seek to garner support for their work. It can be easy to become overwhelmed dealing with data and even easier to fall into these data traps:

Collection vs. Chaos

  • THE TRAP: Collecting information and siloing it into various spreadsheets, data sets, survey results, grant reports, or the institutional memory and experiences of program staff becomes an unsustainable way to track success or impact. Not to mention the additional resource capacity it takes. 
  • THE SOLUTION: Create a “one-stop shop” for data and information. Put tools and systems in place for storing and sharing knowledge. The best data collection efforts occur at the point of service or program delivery, continue through conclusion, and include post-reflection opportunities. Create your strategy with those doing the data collection and make sure there are established next steps. Make data collection intentional and thoughtful. 

Learn about your peers’ favored collection methods?

Big Data vs. Useful Data

  • THE TRAP: Asking too many of the wrong questions to obtain as much data as possible.
  • THE SOLUTION: Determine what is useful to your organization and its stakeholders. Understand your resources, how you will use the data, and what you want to accomplish before spending time and resources collecting the data. Spend time thinking about why you need the information you are collecting and what you will do with it prior to collecting it. Then, turn what you have collected into useful information. This can help you iterate and improve your process. 

Capsizing Your Capacity vs. Capping Capacity

  • THE TRAP: Overcommitting to the amount of data that can be tracked and collected with limited resources: skilled staff, technology, and time. 
  • THE SOLUTION: Think of your capacity when setting expectations or making a commitment. Check your resources. Do you have the capacity to thoroughly review the information that comes in? Do your grantees have the capacity to collect and track more data? It’s not only a question of resources spent on tracking impacts and outcomes, but also of how we’re compensating the people asked to continually do more with less.

If you're going to collect data and information to demonstrate outcomes and impact, ensure the information is essential and will be used. 

Closed Door vs. Open Door Policy

  • THE TRAP: Assuming what your organization is doing is not helpful to other organizations. 
  • THE SOLUTION: Be transparent about what you will do with the information you collect. Share it with your board, partners, and the sector. Also, be transparent with grantees and communicate expectations. Be intentional. Is it time to reframe the conversation?

And don’t forget, data collection is all about learning—welcome surprises and stay open-minded about results!

Additional Resources

This blog is part of our #PhilanthropyExperience project and was created in partnership with Sharmila Rao Thakkar, SRT Consulting. Insight was pulled from our whitepapers:

About the Author

Foundant Technologies has specialized in making philanthropy easier and more impactful through innovative software solutions and exceptional client experiences since 2007. Passionate about philanthropy, our team is dedicated to meeting the unique needs of grantmakers, scholarship providers, community foundations, and nonprofits to enable change-makers to make the world a better place for all.

Profile Photo of Foundant Technologies