How Can We Overcome Data Challenges?

Erin Nylen-Wysocki and Jen Bokoff


When using data in your youth grantmaking work and beyond, you will undoubtedly face challenges. We don’t want roadblocks to set you back, so let’s address some of the most common challenges to help you anticipate and overcome them.

Challenge #1: Not Enough Time

Start Small: If you’re new to using a data lens in your work, don’t try to take on more than your organization can handle. Start by collecting one data point like attendance or applicant age during your next program cycle, and make it usable in some aspect of your work.

Get Organized: Add processes around data collection, analysis, and communication to the calendar at the start of the year so it’s built into your workflow. Then, assign someone data tasks so there is accountability.

Incentivize: For many of us, collecting and analyzing data always falls to the bottom of the urgent to-do list. Put a few incentives like a coffee gift card or a summer Friday in place to motivate staff to dig in.


Challenge #2: Limited Technology

Use Templates: Services like Survey Monkey, Survey Gizmo, and Google Forms provide users with loads of pre-populated survey questions to make data collection a snap. Try a ready-to-use form to begin and then customize it to your needs.

Let Machines Crunch the Numbers: Google Analytics is a great tool that can help you collect data about your online presence. If your services or outreach are primarily online, you can use it to learn about your audience and how they interact with your content. And, if it’s not as useful to your youth grantmaking program, consider building the data capacity of organizations you support by helping them use it.

Empower Through Delegation: Skills around interpreting data are in high demand. Provide an intern, volunteer, or assistant a great learning opportunity by asking them to engage in data tasks for your program.


Challenge #3: Gaps in Data

Recognize What You Can’t Know, and Why: If your question simply isn’t answerable based on available data, it might be because that data is protected or doesn’t exist, or because you would need data analysis skills that your team is not trained for. By recognizing why there’s a gap in what you can know, you may be able to refocus your curiosity and/or find creative ways to approach the problem from new angles.

Connect With Others: Connect with people and organizations with a similar mission, and compare approaches to getting the data you need. There might be ways to tackle the gap together, raise awareness about the challenge through an article or community meeting, or co-fund another organization to help develop the data.

Develop Skills to Analyze Data: Raw data is often out there but needs a framework for understanding. Don’t reinvent the wheel; discover what frameworks, rubrics, and logic model examples are out there that you may be able to adapt for your program. YouthREX’s Logic Model Template is a good place to start.

For more on how to use a data lens to strengthen your youth grantmaking work, read this guide!

Picture of About Erin Nylen-Wysocki and Jen Bokoff

About Erin Nylen-Wysocki and Jen Bokoff

Erin is manager of stakeholder engagement at Foundation Center where she focuses on listening, learning, and iterating with our audiences. She also helps to manage several projects in the Knowledge Services department including

Jen Bokoff is the director of stakeholder engagement at Foundation Center. She develops partnerships and projects that build knowledge and strategy for grantmakers. She likes asking “so what?” to push Foundation Center’s data-driven work to be as valuable and actionable as it can be to social sector changemakers. She also runs GrantCraft, a free service that taps the practical wisdom of funders to improve the collective knowledge of the philanthropy field. In her role, Jen regularly speaks at conferences and facilitates workshops with funders, and connects people to resources, ideas, and one another.