Data tracking – How to get started

You may see organizations like Best Friends Animal Society, Maddie’s Fund, or Faunalytics using data to inform their decisions. This practice is the most effective way to save lives. However, getting started can be intimidating. Even if you already track some data, you may want to be tracking more. In this article we will cover what data is the most essential to begin tracking, how to track it, and what to do with it. There are entire books, courses, and professions on data collection so this is only a very high level overview but as always, if you have any specific questions, feel free to contact us!

Where to begin

Whether you have some data or you have never tracked anything, we’re going to start from the same point.

  1. Consider your goal. What are your current goals? How will this data inform decisions that will help you make progress to those goals? Like with everything we do, make sure we are always keeping our overall goals for the department and organization in mind. For the purpose of this article, we will work through an example of increasing adoption rate.
  2. Determine what data you need. To use your time as efficiently as possible, think about what data you need for the goals you determine. These data points should be directly correlated to your goal. For our example of increasing adoption rate we should begin by tracking the following data points for each adoption:
    • Animal breed, age, size, behavior needs, medical needs, length of stay
    • Adopter age, location, home type (family, single, couple, etc.), animals at home, adoption history (first time adopter or other)
    • How adopter found this animal (online, event, coming to shelter, matched with, etc.)

      There are of course, many other things we could track, but this is a good place to start. Remember not to overwhelm yourself if you have never kept track of these stats.
  3. Create a template for collection. Once you know what data you are going to be tracking, create a place to store this data. The important things to keep in mind is that this data should be readable, easy to navigate, easy to add to, standardized. When adding data, remove opinions and keep data points consistent. For data points like “behavior” it may be easiest to set up a ranking system with a key rather than listing behaviors in words. Depending on the shelter software you are currently using, you may be able to add this template right in your software. If not, you can create a simple Google Sheet or Microsoft Excel document. Here is an example:
  4. Make it part of your process. This is the most important step. Data isn’t helpful if you’re not consistently tracking it. Determine who is going to be responsible for this data. The whole team? One person? Whatever works best with your structure. If you aren’t sure, our recommendation is to give the task to a single person to begin with, you almost always get better results this way.

I have data – now what do I do with it?

Again, we will mention that data analytics is an entire industry and there are many online courses you can take if you want to dive into it. For the purposes of this article, we are going to discuss the very basics of using data to inform decisions.

Continuing with our example of increasing adoption rate, let’s use this as our example of one month of data. We are going to consider one month of data as sufficient data to begin using the results but this varies for every organization. If you are wondering what is sufficient data for your organization, contact us.

After you have sufficient data, walk through these steps:

  1. Determine average and mode. Average will tell you the central value in math and mode will tell you the central value in statistics. Mode helps in situations with extreme values that could impact an average so both of these can be beneficial when making decisions for your organization.
  2. Are there any surprises? At first glance, is there any data that stands out to you? Maybe your average adopter age is older than you realized. Make note of these points because they are likely the areas that you will use to make changes.
  3. Use this set as a baseline. Since this is the first time tracking this data, you have nothing to compare it to. These results are your baseline to measure your progress towards your goals.
  4. Implement strategies and measure a new set of data. After another month, collect the same data and see if there are any changes. Keep in mind that there are a lot of factors out of your control that can impact adoption numbers (time of year, economy, global pandemic, etc) but the longer you track data, the more you will be able to normalize your data to measure the true impact your changes are making.
  5. Rinse and repeat. Make sure you are recording this data consistently and thoroughly.


If this seems overwhelming, just start small. Any amount of data is better than no data. If this doesn’t seem like enough, let us know! We can help build a more customized tracking solution for your team.

Using data to drive your decisions and communicate with your community only serves to grow your mission. Happy rescuing!

Is this article missing something? Have questions? Want help applying what you learned to your organization? Send us a message!

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