Nonprofits and Data

last person joined: 3 days ago 

This group is for those interested in learning and sharing about all things data-related for nonprofits.
The Nonprofits and Data group is for people using data to serve a mission, either directly or by improving nonprofits and the nonprofit sector. That includes everything from collecting data and managing databases to analytics, data visualization and data mining. Here are some examples of topics we discuss:
  • using data to improve organizational effectiveness
  • measuring impact
  • using data for storytelling
  • tools for data management and analysis
  • figuring out the “right” data to collect
  • learning skills to help us use data better

Join us and introduce yourself! For a different way to get to know our members, here is a playlist of our walk-up songs.

Short link: http://community.nten.org/data

1.  What are your "rules" for working with data?

Posted 17 days ago
Maybe it's because I've been watching a lot NCIS on Netflix lately and Gibbs has these rules he teaches his team that these have been in my head, but I came across this great article from 18F called "Little rules for designing with data."  I've also been in an awesome class on Knowledge Management this week, and one of the big a-has for me was on how many of us have this tacit knowledge that is developed from experience and tends to be harder to write down.  As in, it's pretty straightforward to write steps to creating a pivot table in Excel, but harder to explain how you might use it or why you might want to do this over another method--and yet, that's probably what is more helpful if people have never heard of or seen a pivot table before.  I can read all the user documentation for say, a project management tool, but what was really helpful for me was a graphic designer I knew showing me how she and the other designer at work used Trello to keep track of who was doing what and their progress.  So...

Do you have any "rules" that you strive to follow when working with data, or even common advice you give to others around data?  If so, what was a situation that lead to you coming up with this rule/guideline/sage advice?

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Janice Chan
Co-Organizer, NTEN Nonprofits and Data group
Technical Training Specialist, Development and Alumni Relations
Johns Hopkins Institutions
Baltimore, MD
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2.  RE: What are your "rules" for working with data?

Posted 17 days ago
Making sure you have a "tidy" data set is an important first step when you're doing any kind of data analysis. Many times I will get data from a messy Excel or CSV file that needs to be cleaned up and reformatted before I can group the data in useful ways. Hadley Wickham, who develops packages for the R programming language, has published some very good info on tidy data practices (no programming knowledge required). His three main rules for tidy data are:

1. Each variable forms a column.
2. Each observation forms a row.
3. Each type of observational unit forms a table.


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Gavin O'Brien
Manager of Program Data
Community Servings
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3.  RE: What are your "rules" for working with data?

Posted 16 days ago

When I have my "Data" hat on, I'm with Gavin regarding cleansing the data first and having your Excel spreadsheet formatted properly (according to the platform) Most platforms want CSV files. We all use different platforms but I believe the list below is universal:

Robert's Rules:

  1. I always ask why. You might have a better solutions if you know why the data is being imported.  
  2. I require my staff to provide me properly formatted data.The minimum acceptable data for our organization is:
    1. First name
    2. Last name
    3. Email address
  3. Always check the data for formatting errors. I love and trust my staff but errors and messy data still happens. Ultimately, you are the person responsible so take the time to double check.  :)

I hope this helps,

Take care and I look forward to all the replies.

Robert Mendoza

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Robert Mendoza
Data & Technology Administrator
SACNAS
Santa Cruz, CA
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4.  RE: What are your "rules" for working with data?

Posted 12 days ago
Gavin, thanks for sharing some rules about how to set up a spreadsheet!  (And for summarizing from the original article.)  I know I've started down that path and then had to do a lot of copy+paste+transpose because after trying to do various formulas or formatting, I realized that what I put as columns would be better as rows, or vice versa.

And thank you, Robert, for sharing yours!  I find it so crucial to ask why.  Sometimes the people asking for data are not as familiar with the data/definitions, so they'll ask for specific fields and it turns out not to answer their actual question or allow them to take their next step.  Minimum acceptable data is helpful as well.

Robert - Do you have a checklist of common formatting errors?  And if so, do you share it, or is it more for your own reference?

Anyone else - Any rules/guidelines/checklists you use or share with others in working with data?

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Janice Chan
Co-Organizer, NTEN Nonprofits and Data group
Technical Training Specialist, Development and Alumni Relations
Johns Hopkins Institutions
Baltimore, MD
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5.  RE: What are your "rules" for working with data?

Posted 10 days ago
Edited by Robert Mendoza 7 days ago
Hello Janice,

Here is my quick list of the formatting errors for my organization, SACNAS:
  1. Names not capitalized properly. I fix this in Excel by using the PROPER function. 
  2. Extra spacing at the end of Names. I fix this in Excel by using the TRIM function.
  3. First name and last name in one column. I fix this by using the TEXT TO COLUMNS (Data > Text to Columns) and I follow the wizard. 
I also use the CONCATENATE function if I need to combine names into one cell.

There are sooo many resources online for Excel online. Searching "How to xxx in excel" usually produces quite a few targeted results in Google.

I hope this helps and let me know if you have any questions.

Robert Mendoza

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Robert Mendoza
Data & Technology Administrator
SACNAS
Santa Cruz, CA
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6.  RE: What are your "rules" for working with data?

Posted 10 days ago
I've used text to columns and concatenate quite a bit in the past, but I did NOT know about TRIM!  Thanks, Robert!  Learn something new every day!

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Janice Chan
Co-Organizer, NTEN Nonprofits and Data group
Technical Training Specialist, Development and Alumni Relations
Johns Hopkins Institutions
Baltimore, MD
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7.  RE: What are your "rules" for working with data?

Posted 10 days ago
Wow, cool Robert. Your tips are very helpful!

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Ariel Jensen-Vargas
Masters of Public Administration candidate, specializing in Nonprofit Administration
Marxe School of Public and International Affairs (until recently the Baruch School of Public Affairs)
https://www.linkedin.com/in/webmamma
Queens, NY
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8.  RE: What are your "rules" for working with data?

Posted 7 days ago

Wow, cool Robert. Your tips are very helpful!
Ariel Jensen-Vargas,  Jun 16, 2017 06:52
Thank you for your feedback Ariel and glad to help.
~ Robert

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Robert Mendoza
Data & Technology Administrator
SACNAS
Santa Cruz, CA
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