Data Collection Methods Used by Non-Profits
Data is of no use if the insights gleaned from it isn't used strategically. By strategically, I mean that it should be used to guide decisions that yield desired outcomes. Not doing so will mean that nonprofit decision makers will be conducting their decisions in a vacuum without having a clue about procedures that actually work vis-à-vis procedures that don't work. With that said, the main types of data collection methods often employed by non-profits include:-
(iii) Focus Group
(iv) Participant Observation and
(v) Record or Document Review
This is a cost effective method and can be issued either by e-mail, mail, telephones or in person. Generally, the nature of the desired goal will determine the best approach to be used. Surveys can provide critical information and insights for decision makers in a non-profit if conducted effectively. Also, they (surveys) are usually carried out by asking sample beneficiaries a fixed set of questions. Generally, surveys are quantitative in nature.
Interviews reflect a qualitative approach and are very effective at eliciting explanatory responses. Using this approach is a great way of establishing rapport with respondents. It also facilitates the introduction of other stimulus such as pictures of an ongoing project. For instance, non-profit leadership might have a desire to gauge the perception of beneficiaries regarding a project. Rather than hazarding a guess, an interview involving targeted questions can be conducted. Information gleaned from the interview can provide the leadership with objective insights.
Focus Groups are exploratory in nature. As its' name indicates, it focuses on selected beneficiaries of a program for about two hours. Focus Group discussions are conducted in a special facility by a trained interviewer. In most cases, questions asked by the interviewer are structured according to targeted goals. One caveat with focus groups is that they lack an observational component.
Participant Observation as a data collection method is qualitative in nature and can be used by non-profits as a means of gaining explanation /insights. For instance, in a situation where the relevance of a program to beneficiaries is being sought, a non-profit can utilize participant observation. It is especially useful in situations where beneficiaries might not be adept at articulating the specific components of a program that they deem helpful. By observing how beneficiaries engage and act based on present and future circumstances, non-profit leadership can gain deeper understanding.
Record or Document Review:
Under record or document review, data is collected by reviewing existing documents. This qualitative approach involves reviewing internal records and external records. Both internal record keeping sources of an organization and external sources such as publicly available records of a program are reliable sources of data collection through the record or document review approach.
Furthermore, documents are available either in hard copy format or soft copy format. The document review process, although time consuming, can be a useful way of steering the direction of a program. For example, non profit leadership can determine if written statements regarding the purpose of a program are being reflected during the implementation phase of a program. Should discrepancies be discovered during the document review process, measures aimed at curbing these discrepancies can be conducted.
Written By Sherita N Brace
Sherita N Brace is an International Development Professional. She serves as a Consultant to Non-Profits and provides grant writing services, program planning services and communications services.
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