Why should we, as changemakers, take data quality seriously?

Good Data = Good Organizing

  • Looking for that perfect group of volunteers to plan the next bake sale?  Uh oh, is rapid response needed to bail your comrades out of jail?  It looks like a phone tree, phone bank, heck, even a contact list is in order.  If you are working with members, volunteers, or even a staff team, I bet you have a lot of names to keep track of.  Identifying the right people at the right time (and the right way to get in touch with them!) is crucial if we are going to grow our movements.  This means keeping contact info up to date and building skills for how to pull lists out of Excel, Google Drive, or your trusty database.  Let’s make sure that no one gets called twice at the same pledge-drive … or worse, not at all!

Good Data = More Time

  • Recently, an organizer who I tremendously respect needed help merging two spreadsheets.  One had names spelled like “First Last” in the same cell.  The other had First and Last in two different cells.  This made it impossible for my friend to copy and paste her data!  She could have spent hours re-typing names into one unified list, and then weeding out all of the people who appeared twice.  Instead, I used Delimiter and Concatenate functions to quickly split up and join the Name data into the same format (follow that link for a tutorial using Google Sheets).  It took about 30 seconds.  Best of all, you can do it, too!  And then, you can get back to the important stuff, like calling the people on your list!

Good Data = a Justice Issue

  • I believe all people have the final say in who they are and how we (as changemakers!) reach out to them.  That means that our data need a home.  A home for names and nicknames.  A home for pronouns.  A home to opt-out of phone-calls or opt-in to text messages.  This is why I advocate for a more centralized approach to data within an organization, also known as a Single Source of Truth.  That way, we can update someone’s preference in ONE PLACE, one time, and be able to respect them forever.  Database professionals have been slow to come around with pronouns and other data demands from queer and trans communities.  I think this has gotten some air time (though certainly not enough!) but we can do even more to make movements more welcoming across difference, age, ability, gender, (and SO MUCH MORE) by recording and respecting preferences.

Data = Making Meaning

  • I have bad news for you.  There’s a lot of sloppy infographics/bona-fide flow charts out there.  Data viz is a blessing and a curse for us data wonks – but that doesn’t mean that making meaning out of data is a done deal.  Maybe this looks like a chart (one of my favorite examples, below) that takes dense information and tells a story.  Maybe it’s high level fundraising talking points (have you calculated number of returning donors year over year?).  Maybe it’s population-level data about demographic shifts.  Making meaning of data allows us to run better organizations and help changemakers stay connected to highlights and trends, when otherwise they risk missing the forest for the trees.

Prison Dat

It’s simple:  We need good data:

  • to build powerful movements and win!
  • to develop sharp messaging and talking points
  • to tell engaging stories and reach beyond our base
  • to bring resources to the table with creative fundraising
  • … so that new members don’t slip between the cracks
  • … so that donors receive letters at their updated address
  • … so that our communication call people by their chosen names and pronouns
  • … so that our infographics are packed with ideas and meaning (not fluff!)
  • … so that our peoples’ personal information is kept safe and secure

7 thoughts on “Why changemakers need good data

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