Policies & Practices

A Simple Guide to Data Analytics for Nonprofits, Part II

More than a trend or a buzzword, data analytics are here to stay. Newcomers to arts management may find themselves asking, what does data analytics mean for me, and how and why does my organization need to use it? If you are new to arts management, or the data world in general, this two part series is for you!

This article is Part II of a two part series. Part I is available here.

Trends in the Nonprofit Sector

Donors and other major funders typically seek quantitative evidence of mission-related impact in communities therefore nonprofit organizations are making data analytics a standard part practice in daily operations. However, the transition into data-driven decision making hos occurred quite slowly, with over two-thirds of nonprofits reporting that they are only in the beginning stages of implementing data analytics. Furthermore, the majority of nonprofits report that they are not using external data for mission-related analysis; it seems that there is a lack of knowledge or disconnect about how big data can be captured for future community impact. In general, larger nonprofits are more likely to implement data analytics in tandem with improved strategic planning for the mission and programming. Smaller nonprofit organizations, or even arts organizations that wish to place on emphasis on people rather than numbers, have access to many of the same data analytics tools as larger counterparts—so the present concern is why are some organizations not implementing these accessible strategies which can have an immediate impact?

Graph of reasons for not doing data analytic cited by nonprofits: Image credit: IBM,  Leap Before You Lag  (2017)

Graph of reasons for not doing data analytic cited by nonprofits: Image credit: IBM, Leap Before You Lag (2017)

            Numerous barriers, ranging from internal to external environmental factors, are frequently cited as contributing to an organizations the lack of data analytics use. Particularly for smaller or newly founded organizations, the lack of proper technological infrastructure prohibits even the most basic data analytics collection. Similarly, some organizations cite their limited financial resources. Others are concerned about potential resistance to using data as a primary tool for decision making from major funders and financial decision-makers, such as government supporters and board members. A the perceived lack of expertise within an organization’s staff may also present a barrier.

Some of these challenges may be overcome by training staff in data analytics practices, outsourcing for professional consulting, or creating a staff position specifically for data analysis. Depending on the size and financial status of a nonprofit, each of those options can be a viable solution. Staff can be trained on the more basic analytics tools, and many consulting firms offer services that are specifically tailored to the arts nonprofit sector.

Due to the lack of confidence and informative insight for the implementation of analytics, it is imperative that today’s arts managers initiate a new data-driven operations model in their organizations and make the case to stakeholders. The total digitization of information has created a business environment where institutions cannot maintain long-term success without understanding the importance of data.

Best Practices

In assessing what type of data to analyze and how to acquire it, arts organizations may benefit from partnering with other nonprofits or seeking assistance from external sources as they begin the journey of analytics-based functioning. As budget constraints are often a prevalent issue, nonprofits may consider a shared data services model and forming an insights ecosystem. This ecosystem is a combination of resources, internal practices, and external information that can help to optimize profitability and mission-focused agendas.

Visualization of an insight ecosystem: Image credit: IBM,  Leap Before You Lag  (2017)

Visualization of an insight ecosystem: Image credit: IBM, Leap Before You Lag (2017)

 As demonstrated above, collaboration is actually a key component in the process to becoming a data-driven organization.

A clear strategic plan from a lead staff member concerning the critical nature of data in the arts/nonprofit sector is central to success. There must be a steadfast commitment to using data for major decision-making and a willingness to educate staff and other stakeholders about its benefits. Further, new data practices should align with the financial stipulations set forth by major funders and board members; data analytics must be presented in a way that buttresses the development of mission-based programming for real impact. In terms of internal staff, arts managers need to ensure that “actionable metrics” are defined and the organization invests in the necessary technology to measure said metrics. Data analysis can only be beneficial if the goals are defined and accessible through proper platforms. Consequently, data analytics best practices also require organizational leaders to inform staff of new data-focused operations and empower individuals to improve on their skills in the process. Outsourcing may not be necessary if staff members can be trained on new data software and have the desire to build on their current skillsets. Most important in the data analytics journey is that the emphasis on metrics will build or alter programming in a manner that furthers an arts organization’s mission, vision, and values. The metrics that show evidence of success should be analyzed on an ongoing basis, and should those metrics that show problematic trends should be via immediate changes in budget, programming, staff productivity, or which ever means seems appropriate. Behind all of these best practices lies an individual commitment to seek change; thus, the data analytics truly rests on the “human element” for real-world benefits to be had.


Arts organizations can no longer avoid the use of technology and digitized operational tools in preparing for long-term sustainability. Truly, data analysis is the best method for understanding, evaluating, and changing organizational practices: “Without data, it is impossible to measure financial and operational health, identify problems and measure organizational impact.”The most valuable aspect of data analytics that arts managers should realize is the ability to make relevant organization-wide improvements in alignment with the impact they hope to bring about from their mission statement. While data analysis can effectively aid in the acquisition of donors and retention of key audience segments, nonprofits can use these tools to decide which programming elements are bringing about the community benefits they are seeking (and which are not). Given that an organization’s mission, vision, and values reflect its identity in the community, it would be wise of arts leaders to implement data analytics and become advocates for data-driven decision making.

[1] IBM, “Leap before you lag,” (2017): 1.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Idealware, “The State of Nonprofit Data,” 2.

[4] Ibid., 11.

[5] Ibid., 7.

[6] Ibid., 2.

[7] Ibid., 13.

[8] IBM, “Leap before you lag,” (2017): 14.

[9] Ibid.

[10] Ibid.

[11] Ibid.

[12] Ibid.

[13] Ibid.

[14] Cardinal Path, “The State of Digital Data,” 10.

[15] Idealware, “The State of Nonprofit Data,” 3.

Digital Security & Infrastracture for Arts Organizations - Baseline Considerations

Digital Security & Infrastracture for Arts Organizations - Baseline Considerations

Over the past decade, digital security and infrastructure have arrived at the forefront of the minds of organizations both small and large. In an increasingly digital business world organizations must remain vigilant in protecting the volumes of data they collect. This article examines the baseline considerations for Arts Organizations in relation to managing and protecting both business and patron-side data. 

The Giving Pledge: A Start to Engage Tech Philanthropy

The Giving Pledge: A Start to Engage Tech Philanthropy

To understand why arts organizations have struggled to capture funds from tech billionaires, arts managers and development professionals would do well to recognize what philanthropic sectors they are losing these dollars to, and why.  Armed with these insights, arts professionals can then adjust their strategies to better appeal to this new and growing donor segment.

Silicon Struggle: The Battle for The Bay Area Arts' Scene

If you told the average San Francisco resident 40 years ago that the art scene in the Bay Area would be gasping for life in 2015, they probably would have laughed in your face.  But it is 2015, and that is the reality we are facing.  The tech giants have moved in, and  tension is building between the Silicon Valley community and its non-profit entities.  In particular, arts organizations seem to be at an extreme disadvantage for a few reasons:

Research Update: Security and the Cloud

Research Update: Security and the Cloud

When it comes to the cloud, security is a widespread concern across sectors. According to a recent survey, conducted by Lockheed Martin and the Cyber Security Alliance, security was listed as the top concern by Government IT decision makers, despite overall increasing adoption of cloud technology. Security is a multifaceted issue, ranging from the above example concerning what rights are retained when information is uploaded to the cloud, to more classical issues involving data theft. The basic fact is that when organizations take their data into the cloud they are ceding day-to-day control of that data. Though they can access it and share it at will, they typically will have no idea in which physical datacenter, or even in which country, their files are currently stored. Users must rely on the provider to not just manage their data responsibly, and to prevent loss of their data through hardware failure, but to keep their data encrypted and inaccessible to unauthorized users.

Engaging Technology: uCurate and uExplore at the Clark

What’s going on at the Sterling and Francine Clark Institute in Williamstown, Massachusetts? Let’s see, there are iPads, tablets, interactive digital programs, touchscreens and kiosks throughout the galleries, the new exhibition, Clark Remix, and oh yes, new curators- YOU. In a February press release, the Clark announced its exciting new initiative to encourage visitor interaction and participation in its galleries. According to the press release, Clark Remix is "a dynamic salon-style installation featuring some 80 paintings, 20 sculptures, and 300 of the institute’s finest examples of decorative arts."

As part of the exhibit, the Clark has introduced the interactive, digital programs uExplore and uCurate. Both programs are accessible online, on the visitor’s own personal device, on touchscreens and kiosks throughout the gallery and on iPads and tablets provided by the Clark for use in the museum. Basically, the programs are EXTREMELY accessible and user friendly- I myself have spent all afternoon here in Pittsburgh exploring the Clark’s collection and building my own exhibition, instead of reading for class (ahh priorities).

The Director of the Clark, Michael Conforti explains the premise of Clark Remix,

Clark Remix represents one of many programs that the Clark is developing to engage audiences in exciting ways. Clark Remix allows us to present our permanent collection in an installation that is both beautiful and innovative. Our salon-style presentation provides a very different and intriguing perspective on many of the works that have become familiar favorites for Clark visitors. Adding virtual components to the exhibition allows us to reach new audiences and invite them to discover and interact with our collection.

It works like this. uExplore allows the visitor to learn more about the Clark’s collection in a visually stimulating, highly organized, and digitally oriented way. Items are grouped into categories (paintings, sculpture, glass silver and ceramics) to allow the user to navigate with ease through the extensive collection. Selecting an image of the desired object, a more detailed, but not overwhelming, explanation of the item becomes available. When appropriate, audio and video clips accompany the information.

It is a beautifully designed and easily navigable interface. uExplore’s presence in the gallery encourages visitors to delve more deeply into the history of the collection, while they are on-site.

The second digital application to accompany the exhibit, uCurate, gives visitors the opportunity to participate in the curatorial process. As the name implies, YOU, aka the visitor, plan and design a 3D virtual exhibition with the Clark’s collection. The participant makes all decisions, from what to include and how to arrange

the objects, to wall color selection and wall text. Users of the program have the option to submit their designs for consideration by Clark’s curatorial team AND to share their designs through social media channels (promoting the museum and the digital program). Submissions to the Clark will be reviewed regularly. Why submit your design for professional review by Clark curators? Because if selected, the virtual design will be transformed into an actual exhibition! The lucky designers will be invited to assist in their exhibition’s installation, in the decision-making process, in the creation of wall text and in writing the curator’s statement.

uCurate and uExplore were designed by the Clark in collaboration with Swim Design Consultants and Virtual Gallerie to afford the public a voice and role in the museum’s exhibition planning process. Allowing the public to suggest actual designs for implementation challenges what has been the accepted and traditional decision-making process in the museum. That is, all decisions are made internally; the public only receives, not contributes. But the Clark is trying something different. In a recent New York Times' article on the Clark’s innovative crowd-sourcing approach, Conforti said,

For generations, curators ran the show and told you what to believe. In a world of blogging and Wikipedia, we realized that we can learn from our audience, and from multiple interpretations.

This is Museum 2.0 in action. Where visitors become users and museums become, as Nina Simon explains, “dynamic platforms for content generation and sharing.”

So Kudos to you, Clark Museum. This is an engaging and relevant use of technology where the user AND museum win.

Public Financing for the Arts in Europe Takes a Hit

Tell me if you have heard this one before. In the midst of an economic downturn, a country desperately searches for cuts in spending anywhere it can, as calls for budget austerity grow louder. In the end, it’s the more vulnerable programs that are hit the hardest, which often includes education programs, safety net measures, and the arts community.

While that above paragraph would describe the arts community in the United States in recent years, the trend is now playing out across Europe as debt-ridden countries turn to austerity measures in the face of the European debt crisis. While European countries spend significantly more on the arts than we do in the United States, the dangers of budget austerity in the coming years for the arts community in several European countries are very, very real.

I have been thinking a lot about this issue of arts funding in Europe vs. the United States over the past week, and two events in particular heightened my interest. First, this past Friday, we sponsored a Carnegie Mellon Master of Arts Management Speaker Series event with the Consulate of the Netherlands, who were in town for the annual Dutch Festival in Pittsburgh. We started talking about the difference in the way the arts are funded in a country like the Netherlands versus the way it is funded here at home. More on that in a minute.

The other item that caught my interest was a front page story in the New York Times yesterday about the fate of public financing for the arts in Europe. As I mentioned above, Europe is now going through the same kind of austerity measures that rocked the United States in 2009: debt is growing, calls for fiscal restraint are getting louder, and every program is being measured for its return on investment and how important it is going forward.

The numbers are striking: as the New York Times reports, in the Netherlands, the budget for arts and culture is seeing a decrease of roughly $265 million, or 25 percent. In addition to those cuts, the public is being asked to pay more to see shows and events, with increased taxes on tickets.

These cuts are hitting smaller venues, troupes, and companies the hardest: with less funding to go around, existing expenditures are being targeted at more established performers, forcing more unique acts, which may be struggling for audiences, to face an uncertain future.

And while some may feel that cuts to the arts in Europe would have little effect on the arts here in the United States, one of the expenses artists in Europe are cutting back on are trips and performances overseas, to countries like the United States. Artists are cancelling trips and forcing festivals to find alternative performers.

Another effect this is going to have on the American arts community is over the issue of fundraising. As we discussed with the Consulate of the Netherlands on Friday, there are different views towards art funding in Europe than there are here. In a country like the Netherlands, a resident pays higher taxes to pay for additional services like health care, transportation, and safety net measures. Another element of those increased taxes is funding for the arts; with the government taking a higher percentage out of every paycheck, many Dutch residents feel they are less inclined to donate their own money to the arts because they feel like the government is already doing it for them.

Here in the United States, the opposite is true: the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) receives such a small percentage of overall government revenue (usually in the range of $150-160 million, compared to billions of dollars in several European countries) that the vast majority of funding for the arts comes from donations from individuals. Since Americans are taxed at a much lower rate, they have more disposable income, and thus more free to donate it to the art of their choosing. There are issues of whether a lot of this money is really going to where it is needed, but that is a discussion for another day.

With European governments cutting back on their arts funding, this is naturally going to lead to artists in Europe to seek alternative sources of revenue. As the New York Times explains, this includes going after their descendents currently living in America – who may be already donating to arts organizations in their communities.

So this presents a problem: a global recession and austerity measures in dozens of countries, all leading to a shift in the way arts are funded worldwide. It will lead to more uncertainty, a greater dispersion of artistic funding and increased competition for the individuals who provide a sizeable percentage of giving.

Is the current model, where American artists rely mostly on private donations and European artists rely on government grants, sustainable? For the United States, absolutely. With calls from some politicians to cut and even eliminate funding for the NEA and other culture programs, there is certainly little chance of seeing an increase in federal funds for the arts.

As for Europe? That is a different story. As the story goes, as the pond gets smaller (in this case, the pond symbolizing the amount of funding), the fish will get nervous, and perhaps seek refuge elsewhere, in the form of spending more of their time fundraising, at the expense of the very same art they are seeking to promote. With artists now having to listen to potential funders, who may have a different vision for what kind of art they want to see, the impact on what kind of art is made and performed is bound to be substantial.

In the short term, the effect is obvious: less festivals, traveling art troupes, and shows. Fewer jobs for artists in countries like Italy, Hungary, Netherlands and Greece. Fewer opportunities for tourists and residents to see the best of what each of these countries has to offer.

It really is sad, but perhaps unavoidable. As I have written before, we seem to find ourselves in the era of budget austerity, and even while the economy has shown signs of improvement in recent months, the desire to increase funding for the arts pales in comparison to support for other existing programs.

The promise and benefit of increased funding for the arts, both at the private and federal level, is well known to all readers of this blog. The New York Times piece describes Europe as the place “where art is life,” and while that is certainly true to anyone who has visited, the newfound austerity measures being put in place represent a significant threat to that very same life going forward.