How to align an organization to define a data strategy

IntermediateStrategy 5 StepsLast updated: March 25, 2024
A guide focused on how an organization begins the process of developing and implementing a data strategy, who is involved, and how to engage stakeholders.

Guide Objectives

  • Develop an initial set of data strategy objectives 
  • Identify and engage internal champions of the data strategy 
  • Agree on success metrics/format of the final product
  • Engage the broader organization through a data strategy workshop 

Aligning teams on creating and carrying out a data strategy is an important step in an organization’s digital transformation.  

In practice, a data strategy is a structured plan that outlines how an organization will collect, manage, analyze, and leverage data to achieve its objectives. In a data strategy, one would expect to find processes, technologies, policies, ethics and governance frameworks aimed at maximizing the value of data assets while ensuring data security and quality.  

Developing and implementing a data strategy often requires change management, and is typically a process that takes time to create meaningful results. In this guide, we will focus on how an organization begins this process, who is involved, and how to engage stakeholders. 

Guide Specific Disclaimer

Because each organization is different and depending on the size, complexity, and priorities of your organization, you might not be able to follow through with every one of the steps in our guide. There is no one-size-fits-all to data strategy development, and certainly not to change management. Take from this guide what makes sense for your organization, and adapt to your situation.  

Draft data strategy objectives aligned with your SIO’s mission

While developing a data strategy requires collaboration among various parties within your organization, it needs to start somewhere. There is typically a person or a team that takes the lead and develops the first draft of the data strategy objectives that are then reviewed and adjusted through collaboration with other stakeholders. This is an important step to achieving buy-in among key stakeholders within your organization.  

If you are taking the lead on the first version of a data strategy, here are a few questions you can ask yourself to get things started: 

  • How can data support our organization’s mission and objectives? 
  • What data do our stakeholders (donors, beneficiaries, volunteers, etc.) need or expect from us? 
  • How can we use data to measure our impact and effectiveness in fulfilling our mission? 
  • How can we ensure the responsible collection and use of data, while respecting the privacy and dignity of our beneficiaries and stakeholders? 
  • Do we have the necessary skills and capacity within our organization to implement our data strategy objectives? If not, how can we build or acquire them? 
  • What policies and procedures do we need to establish to govern the collection, storage, and sharing of data responsibly? 
  • How will we use data to inform our decision-making, learn from our experiences, and adapt our strategies over time? 
  • How can we use our data to create greater value and impact for our beneficiaries and stakeholders? 
  • What will be the ongoing governance of this data strategy? Who updates, and how often? 

Remember, it is important to brainstorm these objectives to get things moving, but you should remain open to adjusting them as stakeholders become more engaged in defining the data strategy.

A few examples of data strategy objectives include:

  • Improve Program Effectiveness: Use data to assess the impact of programs and services on beneficiaries, and identify areas for improvement. 
  • Enhance Donor Engagement: Utilize data analytics to better understand donor preferences and behavior, leading to more targeted fundraising efforts and improved donor retention. 
  • Optimize Operations: Streamline internal processes and resource allocation through data-driven insights, leading to cost savings and increased efficiency. 
  • Ensure Data Security and Privacy: Establish robust data governance policies and procedures to protect sensitive information and ensure compliance with regulations. 
  • Increase Outreach and Awareness: Use data analytics to identify target audiences and optimize communication strategies to raise awareness about the organization’s mission and activities. 
  • Create Data Value: Use data analytics to harvest insights that can be shared with beneficiaries and increase your organization’s impact.

Identify and engage with internal champions

Now that you have developed initial objectives for your organization’s data strategy, it is important to find your . You will need buy-in to have a data strategy that creates real change within your organization, and uncovering champions is critical in doing so. 

There are many ways to identify champions, but here are a few: 

  • Develop a Data Advisory Committee and seek staff volunteers to join the effort. While you would need to define the scope of the committee, it typically would involve either developing or reviewing the data strategy (or specific components within) and promoting it to other colleagues. 
  • Look for individuals within the organization who already demonstrate an interest in data-related topics, such as data analysis, visualization, or data-driven decision-making. In a small organization, these people may be easy to spot and approach to garner their involvement with the data strategy. 
  • Look for individuals who have recently expressed concern about inadequate organizational activities or operations that may be addressed through improved data processes (ex. having impact-related data for fundraising or reporting, knowing what CRM list to contact for impact surveys, etc.) By showcasing the value of a data strategy in implementing these processes, these colleagues can become powerful champions.

Set the agenda for staff workshop(s) on data strategy development

Now that you have drafted objectives for the data strategy, and brought in champions to support you, the next step is to develop the agenda for a data strategy workshop (or series of workshops), customized to your audience. 

Depending on the size of the organization they may or may not include CEO and other executive roles. In any case, the attendees of this workshop should be a mix of the leadership team, tech team, and representatives from different program areas. Including data skeptics can be helpful! 

For the data strategy workshop(s), the key subjects that should be included in your agenda are: 

  • Current State Assessment: Review the current data infrastructure, processes, and capabilities within the organization. Identify strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats related to data management and analytics. This assessment forms the basis for understanding the organization’s areas for improvement. 
  • Objectives Alignment: Discuss how data strategy aligns with the organization’s broader objectives. Identify specific use cases and initiatives where data can be leveraged to drive impact, such as improving user experience, optimizing program activities, or enhancing decision-making processes. Review the drafted data strategy objectives and refine them accordingly. 
  • Data Governance Framework: Define the principles, policies, and procedures for managing and governing data effectively throughout its lifecycle. Discuss topics such as data quality standards, privacy and security measures, roles and responsibilities, and compliance requirements. Establish a framework that ensures data is trusted, secure, and compliant with regulations. 
  • Data Infrastructure and Technology Needs: Identify data infrastructure gaps and determine what tools, platforms, and technologies are needed to support the organization’s data strategy objectives. Consider factors such as scalability, interoperability, cloud adoption, and integration capabilities. 
  • Resource Allocation and Skills Development: Discuss resource requirements, including budget, staffing, and skill sets needed to execute the data strategy effectively. Identify training and development opportunities to enhance the data literacy and analytical capabilities of employees. Evaluate the alignment between the organization’s talent pool and the skills needed to execute the data strategy successfully.  

While the above is more than can be covered by a single workshop, the items are all relevant to developing and implementing a data strategy. Choose those areas that fit most comfortably within your workshop and expand on them further with discussions and activities. 

Finally, prior to hosting this workshop, we recommend asking attendees to share their questions about the data strategy beforehand. By doing so, you have a better understanding of attendee concerns, needs, and a general understanding of what a data strategy entails.  

Sample Pre-Data Strategy Workshop Survey Questions: 

  1. What changes would you like to see in the way our organization collects, manages, analyzes, and leverages data to achieve its overall objectives? 
  1. How do you think a data strategy would impact your work? 
  1. What questions would you like to be answered during the upcoming workshop?

Host the staff workshop

The nature of the workshop(s) will vary depending on the size of your organization and the needs of the attendees. Depending on scheduling and priorities, this can be a single workshop or a series of workshops. However it is developed, it is important for the workshop to be collaborative and activity-driven, rather than presentation-focused. The goal here is to drive stakeholder ownership in this way, and so attendees must be involved in all parts of the strategy. They should have opportunities to discuss, review, and redefine data strategy objectives and priorities, data process adjustments, etc.  

At a minimum, the first workshop should lead to: 

  1. An agreed-upon list of data strategy objectives that drive future conversations and developments.  
  2. Next steps that keep the momentum going and indicate to staff that this is a priority. One recommended next step would be to draft a work plan based on objectives and activities discussed at the meeting. This could include activities leading to data policy creation, data quality protocol development, etc. 

‘So what’ and next steps

When developing and eventually implementing your data strategy, remember that it should be regularly monitored and adjusted for relevance. As technology and organizational needs evolve, you may need to revisit and elaborate on certain parts of your data strategy (and its underlying objectives.) That is why gathering support from your champions and key stakeholders early on is so important.  

Maintaining a relevant data strategy is done both through continuous updates and through frequent touchpoints with stakeholders. The latter is a central element of change management, and it is a process that, while time-consuming, will reap benefits over time as you refine the use of data within your organization. 

For more resources on becoming a data-driven organization, we recommend looking into this additional guide: 

Crafting Your Data Strategy 

We'd love your feedback.

Was this guide helpful? Please rate this guide and share any additional feedback on how we might improve it.

Need some additional help?

Explore additional pathways and perspectives to inform your data for social impact journey.