Strategic Data – Harnessing Technology for Decision-Making

The Foundation has three different program areas and supports that program work in two distinct regions. Through meetings and convenings, grant applications and reports, maps and shared databases, we collect an extraordinary amount of information about that work.

What do we do with all that data? What tools do we use to analyze that data? How do we share that information to our board, other decision makers, and the field?

In my role as grants manager, I oversee the processes by which we gather most of this data – both qualitative and quantitative. As the “keeper” of the data, I also compile the data and share it back to our program staff and ultimately our board of directors.

I use Excel most often for static reports and doing quick charts for basic information, such as how much did we grant in land conservation last year? That means turning this:


Into something more people can read and understand quickly, like this:

For more complex analysis and interactive visualizations, I’ve started using Tableau. I can easily drag and drop fields to explore the data. It’s also great for presentations, as I can filter different measures on the fly, and the visualization adjusts accordingly. Recently I attended Tableau’s annual conference, where I learned a great deal about mapping – very helpful for a foundation with such specific geographic goals. I’m looking forward to learning and using Tableau more for analysis.

And to what end? Data visualized in a more compelling way allows us to see patterns, compare trends, and at the end of the day, make more informed decisions. Whether it’s to ask questions about why grantmaking decreased in one year over another, compare the budgets of organizations that do or do not have an annual plan in place, or see what counties may need more capacity building support. Data isn’t always binary; it’s one important part of what we refer to as our “mission cycle”.

Resources List:

Tableau Foundation for Non-profits:

Data Analysts for Social Good (webinars, conference):

Cole Nussbaumer Knaflic – Storytelling With Data:

Ann K. Emery – data analysis & visualizations:

Alberto Cairo – The Functional Art:

For more on how we choose metrics, see my blog on evaluation:

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