As you plan for evaluating your non-profit organization, it’s important to consider what type of data you’ll collect to tell your program’s story and demonstrate its effectiveness. Data typically falls into two camps: quantitative and qualitative. In this post, I’ll explain both, provide examples, and

Quantitative Data

Quantitative data communicates what happened numerically and allows you to answer “who” and “what” and “how many” questions about your program. Quantitative data are collected through things such as:

  • Attendance records
  • Surveys
  • Pre and post tests

Quantitative data allows you to perform statistical analyses with the data and you can easily present findings in tables and graphs. This is especially useful when you need/want to provide a
“just the facts” overview of your program. There are a few things to keep in mind when deciding to use this type of data:

  • Quantitative data will not necessarily answer questions of “why,” which means you will likely need to dig deeper by collecting qualitative data.
  • Quantitative data requires you to design the metrics very carefully. For example, if you decide to administer pre and post tests to capture what participants learned because of your program, then you must be certain that your tests accurately measure your program’s curriculum.

Qualitative Data

Qualitative data describes what happened in words. This type of data allows you to answer “why” and “how” questions about your program and is where you get to demonstrate the heart and soul of your program. In order to do this, you might collect the following types of data:

  • Focus groups
  • Interviews
  • Observations
  • Document analysis (e.g, reviewing journal entries)

Qualitative data allows you to capture the rich experience of participants and provides you with insight that cannot be gleaned from quantitative data. However, there are a few caveats that you should keep in mind when it comes to qualitaiave data:

  • Qualitative data is not always generalizable to the entire population. Be mindful of taking what you learned in a few interviews and interpreting that to mean those are the experiences of all participants.
  • Collecting and analyzing qualitative data is time consuming. If you are seeking quick answers to your questions, qualitative data may not be the way to go.

You may be asking yourself, well, which type of data should my organization be collecting? While every program has different needs, I recommend that organizations collect quantitative and qualitative data. Depending on your program goals, one data type may be better than the other, but both are needed to present a complete picture of your program. In addition, funding organizations and other stakeholders want to see both. A compelling story from one of your program participants of how your program changed their life will draw your audience in, but it should be coupled with quantitative data about all participants. Conversely, relying solely on quantitative data; people like to feel connected to your work and qualitative data allows them to do that more easily.

What types of data does your non-profit collect? How can I help you determine which types of data would best meet your needs?