July 2, 2015

7 Elements of a Successful Advocacy Network

This year has been one for the books for national social movements, and behind the headlines for each of the historic victories that we have seen this year is an effective network of people. Lessons learned from these enormous, powerful movements can be easily translated into smaller networks as well—such as among project teams or within organizations—and can help foster a culture of collaboration.

Networks can be particularly powerful structures, because they grow in value and usefulness as they scale up resources and participation. They allow resources and needs to flow among the nodes and create new alignments driven by the demands of the users. A key part of the strength of networks is how well they foster collaboration between participants due to the general lack of a top-down structure.

However, just because a set of people or a movement fits the general structure of a network or calls itself a network, doesn’t mean it is one. And if it is a network, it still may not be especially functional or effective. When a network lacks one or more of the seven elements that tie the people together (see below), it can experience cascading failure―collapsing quickly, completely, and spectacularly. However, by building network capacity intentionally and with a bit of discipline and clarity, risks can be mitigated, and the focus can stay on fostering a culture of collaboration.

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Within each of the networks behind social change victories, there are seven essential elements that make them functional, collaborative, and effective. The following seven elements comprise a framework that should be integrated into any advocacy network: social ties, a communications grid, common language, a clear vision, shared resources, actors, and feedback mechanisms. Each of these elements is important and crucial in its own right, but it’s the combination of these elements that create the ties among the people and give a network genuine capacity―and strong network capacity creates the most effective environment for collaboration.

Reinforcing social ties between people helps create a sense of trust – key to meaningful collaboration – and helps create relationships capable of withstanding the stress of natural disagreements. People also need various ways in which to communicate; some people prefer different methods, and not all methods are right for every situation. For example, a listserv is great for quick communication but not as good for in-depth strategic planning. There also should be a focus on different modes of communications: one-to-one, one-to-many, and many-to-many. All methods of communications among people make up the communications grid of a network.

As members of a network work together more closely, a common language starts to develop. It is important to make sure that everyone is on board and understands the terms and phrases being used in order to minimize confusion. Similarly, another needed element of any network is a clear vision for what the group has set out to achieve. Sharing this vision with everyone helps to create clarity and focus around goals and tasks. And speaking of sharing, one of the many benefits of a network structure is the ability to share resources. For example, sharing email lists, technology, or trainings saves participants money and time spent on what would otherwise be duplicative work.

Much like traditional workplaces and organizations, each network must also have a variety of actors— people who drive the activities of the network by monitoring resources, creating messaging, outlining participant responsibilities, receiving feedback, and more. Generally speaking, there are four different types of actors: drivers, who participate in networks specifically to tap into the resources they need to organize change; weavers, who serve as both the welcome committee and those who help reconnect people across the network; supporters, who are there to be a resource to others―adding voice, sharing resources, and being willing to contribute to efforts to create change; and operators, who make sure the lights stay on and the rules of the network are followed.

These roles are fluid, and actors often shift from supporter to driver or step in to help make connections, moderate a discussion, or plan a major campaign. Each role is essential. The key to sparking collaboration when integrating the elements into any network is to give everyone an opportunity to participate in the way they fit best.

Finally, any network must have solid feedback mechanisms in place to help leaders and other participants understand the trends, resources, and needs of the entire network. The ability to gather feedback that will help a network grow and refine activities is crucial to transparency and success. In turn, a network’s members can be motivated when they see their successes and trends. The network’s leaders must also be able to respond to feedback and effectively readjust network actions and priorities based on this information. Without feedback, organizations can be blind to critical information that can help improve it.

These seven elements can be used in a variety of situations to help create ties so collaboration can flourish: advocacy networks, among staff of an organization, or even in your own personal networks. (If you’re interested to see how your network stacks up, our team is working on a rapid network assessment tool to evaluate the strength of each element within a network. Note: it’s still in beta.)

Over the years, we’ve also learned that this framework can be just as crucial to building the capacity necessary for fostering a culture of collaboration within our own organization and Board of Directors. In the session called “Building an Organizational Network to Foster a Culture of Collaboration” at the Leading Change Summit in September, we’ll talk more about each of these elements in depth and discuss the best practices and technology that make each of them fall into place. We will work together to lift up the practices we all use to build network capacity within our organizations already, and leave with new ideas to put into practice to help our organizations and the networks we work in grow, create, and flourish.

Hope to see you there!

Marty Kearns
Marty Kearns pioneered integration of network-centric principles into civic organizing and social change work. He drives the strategy, vision and development of Netcentric Campaigns, working with advocacy leaders from nonprofits and foundations to further their understanding of the powerful role networks of people can play in all elements of their work.
July 1, 2015

The 18th Issue of NTEN: Change is out – “Organizational Effectiveness at Scale”

June 2015 NTEN Change JournalYou will often hear us say: Technology can help nonprofits effectively meet their missions. It’s true! But how does this play out inside the organization?

The 18th issue of NTEN: Change explores what organizations are doing to be more effective, and the actions that they’re taking to scale up. It is a collection of articles and interviews that look inside the nonprofit to understand the systems, processes, and tools that are in place to ensure success, and inspire you to do the same!

Feature articles:

We also go behind the scenes to get tips from the California Coastkeepers Alliance about the importance of building partnerships, learn how Splash redefines transparency with technology, receive advice from the Humane Society International on what to consider when planning a global expansion, and TerraCycle demonstrates how to reduce waste and raise funds at the same time.

You might notice: The Change journal has changed! As part of NTEN’s overall website redesign, the Change journal is now hosted on the NTEN site. You can scroll through the articles, click on “In this Issue” at the top to navigate back to other sections, and share individual articles.

Joleen Ong
Joleen is a strong advocate of the nonprofit sector’s role in bringing about social change, and the power of technology to make this happen. At NTEN, Joleen is the editor of NTEN: Change, the quarterly journal for nonprofit leaders, and helps to support NTEN’s 50,000+ community members meet their mission through technology. Joleen is a published writer and researcher on the topic of nonprofit fundraising, communications, marketing, as well as international human rights and labor relations in Asia and Latin America. Prior to NTEN, she was the Communications Manager at Social Accountability International in New York for five years, where she focused on supporting programs to advance workers rights in factories around the world. Joleen earned her MS in Nonprofit Management from the New School, and BA in International Studies and Spanish/Anthropology at the College of New Jersey. She has led presentations on the topic of nonprofit marketing, communications, and sustainability worldwide. She is also a member/blogger of the Integrated Marketing Advisory Board (IMAB) and frequent webinar trainer for FundsForNGOs. Joleen is also the editor of two award-winning social justice documentaries that focus on responsible procurement with Fair Trade on college campuses, and military recruitment.
June 26, 2015

2015 Leading Change Summit: Your Personal Strategic Planning Retreat

The nonprofit technology community has asked for a new kind of gathering. We’ve received this feedback in program evaluations, annual surveys, committee discussions, and personal emails and calls for many years. In 2014, we launched the Leading Change Summit (LCS) as the first iteration of this new event model. It was a big test about what could work and what would need to change, and it was a lot of fun. There were incredible people involved that helped form and advance inspiring projects. It’s now 2015, and we think we’ve made the LCS model even better for year two. Here’s how:

Your Personal Strategic Planning Session

In planning and designing LCS, one area of consistent feedback was that the people who were most interested in this new model (nonprofit leaders who manage a team, a budget, and/or strategy) were also the people who felt it was most challenging to get away from their offices and teams to attend a conference. That’s why we’ve made you – your ideas, wish list projects, or ongoing challenges – the focus of LCS. From the opening session to the closing awards ceremony at the Idea Accelerator, the LCS facilitates a strategic planning process just for you:

  • Keynotes will start the Summit, showcasing a diversity of ideas and real world examples of successful program and service transformation.
  • Hubs help you meet other nonprofit managers and leaders who are working on similar topics or tackling similar projects.
  • Workshops are designed to help you surface, design, and plan the projects or concepts you can take back to your team for implementation.
  • The Idea Accelerator moves projects from the Summit even closer to implementation by gathering input and support from other attendees around specific projects, with pitches at the end of the day (and prizes!).

Focus on You & Your Ideas

There are already lots of conferences available to nonprofits – from state association events to software user conferences and everything in between. Those conferences, including our own Nonprofit Technology Conference, are great for meeting lots of people, finding new tools and products, learning about best practices, and exploring new topics from a range of breakout sessions. The LCS is designed to be a compliment to the NTC or other conferences you may attend, not a replacement.

At LCS, instead of attending breakout sessions where you’ll listen and learn, you will be supported in putting together a new idea, campaign plan, program design, technology project, or solution for your nonprofit organization. The workshop series at LCS steers you from stage to stage in your project development. Recognizing that not every participant will want or need the same support at each stage, there are always four workshops to choose from to ensure you can get the feedback you need.

  1. Community: This is the first step in any ideation process! Workshops during this time provide you opportunities to identify your community needs, assets, and potential for impact.
  2. Collaboration: The next step is identifying strategic partners whether they are inside the organization or others in the sector or city, and planning for successful engagement together.
  3. Creativity: Now that you’ve done initial discovery, the next step is to start really framing your idea. These workshops take place within the Hub groups so you are best positioned to get feedback and inspiration from peers.
  4. Technology: There are two workshops times addressing technology so that you have time to explore both strategies for the technology tools you need in your project as well as the tactical implementation plans.
  5. Sustainability: The final workshop time is focused on helping you identify the models for sustainability, a critical area to address before presenting your plans to your board and staff.

Whether you have a long list of project ideas or feel like you don’t know what you’d possibly work on at LCS, this facilitated strategic planning retreat will help you focus on the needs and opportunities in your work, build relationships with other social change makers and nonprofit leaders, and provide you with a space to get out of the day-to-day routine so you can be inspired and supported with your own plans for impact.

We look forward to collaborating with you at the 15LCS, September 13-16th, in Washington, D.C.!

Amy Sample Ward
Amy Sample Ward is NTEN's CEO. She is also a blogger, facilitator and trainer focused on leveraging social technologies for social change. In 2013, Amy co-authored Social Change Anytime Everywhere with Allyson Kapin. She previously co-authored Social by Social: a handbook in using new technologies for social impact. She has worked in and with advocacy organizations, private foundations, and community groups in the US, UK and around the world.
June 25, 2015

Things We Like (June 2015)

A monthly roundup of our favorite nonprofit tech resources and other goodies.

  1. June is #ImmigrantHeritageMonth. Throughout the month, we’re celebrating both our diversity and our shared American heritage. Share your story!
  2. Chris Lysy shares this Digital Inclusion cartoon as a celebration of NTEN’s new Digital Inclusion Fellowship program and a recognition that lack of access in many communities is the rule, not the exception.
  3. Johanna Bates explains why homepage design is the exception of web design, not the rule.
  4. Here are a number of presentations on web design, thanks to our WordPress Community of Practice members.
  5. Members of the Github community have developed a Chrome extension that replaces occurrences of “Millennials” with “Snake People” (no offense, Millenials!).
  6. And here’s a Chrome extension that replaces “Cloud” with “Butts” (no offense, clouds!).
  7. Apparently you can replace your plastic construction toys and instead make your own stackable LEGO gummies.
  8. Pizza Hut in Hong Kong allows you to turn your pizza delivery device into a small film projector.
  9. There’s a guy in Sweden who has turned a truck into a gourmet dog food delivery device. The response is mixed.
  10. According to an Indiana University researcher, the response to cat videos is clear—boosted energy and positive emotions.
  11. Speaking of cat videos, here it is: “How To Create A Digital Strategy For The Internet.”
  12. The digital strategy behind Clickhole, explained.
  13. The sonority behind these beatbox jams is, surprisingly, lemurs.
  14. The short film “Denali” is surprisingly heartbreaking in a hauntingly beautiful way.
  15. The heartbreakingly story of injustice and racism exemplified in the treatment of Kalief Browden is spoken by Ta-Nehisi Coates in “American Kidnapping.”
  16. In the wake of the horrific attacks at the Emanuel AME Church, white people are asked to speak out on injustice and racism in “‘Allies,’ the Time For Your Silence Has Expired.


Steph Routh
Steph is Content Manager at NTEN: The Nonprofit Technology Network. She has spent over a decade in the nonprofit sector, with a focus on organizational development, communications, fundraising, and program planning. Steph served as the first Executive Director of Oregon Walks for five years prior to joining NTEN. She is passionate about removing barriers to opportunities and finding equity at the many intersections of social justice work. And she feels lucky every day she is at NTEN, with a Community that does exactly that. Outside the NTEN office, Steph is the Mayor of Hopscotch Town, a consulting and small publishing firm that inspires and celebrates fun, lovable places for everyone. Steph is married to her bicycle and an aunt of two.
June 24, 2015

DMNAF Multitrack Fundraising Conference in NYC, August 4-5

New York Nonprofit Conference

Mark your calendars! The DMANF semi-annual Nonprofit Conference is coming up on August 4-5, at the New York Hilton Midtown, NYC. Join NTEN and hundreds of fundraising veterans and fellow marketing professionals at the 2015 New York Nonprofit Conference. You’ll get two days of nonstop, fast-moving sessions, packed with strategies, tips, and real solutions designed to fast-track your fundraising.

NTEN is excited to be a partner and collaborator for the conference! Look for the the following sessions featuring NTEN staff, Joleen Ong and Megan Keane, and community members on Wednesday, August 5:

  • Benchmarks 2015
  • Pay to Play: Using Digital Media to Stack the Odds in Your Favor
  • Go Fund Yourself: How Crowdfunding & Peer to Peer is Dangerously Changing Fundraising

Special discount for NTEN Community Members: Use discount code NTEN150 when you register before July 6 & SAVE $150 off early bird pricing!

Learn more about New York Nonprofit Conference, check out the program, and register today!

Are you attending the New York Nonprofit Conference? Let us know and we’ll look for you there.

Megan Keane
June 23, 2015

3 Days Left: Tips & Inspiration for Submitting your 16NTC Session Ideas

Don't miss your chance to speak at the 16NTC!

Whether you’ve thought about it for weeks and are crafting the perfect submission, or just got wind of this opportunity – the deadline is the same: Friday, June 26.

Submit your idea to speak at the 2016 Nonprofit Technology Conference in San Jose on March 23-25!  

To help get you up to speed quickly, here are a few quick things to think about to get your submission in and ready to go before we move into the community voting period on July 8.

Who Should Submit?

A core part of the NTEN Community is creating opportunities for new voices to be identified and elevated, as well as active members to share their voices in new ways. Speaking at this larger than life event (2,000 + attendees from 16 countries at 15NTC) is a great way to do that. So whether you have presented at NTC before and are bringing in new speakers as part of your session or making this your break out performance, we would love to see your ideas contributed before we move into community voting.

What if I have a great idea but am not the public speaking type?

No problem, the submission phase is about gathering ideas for the community to vote on. We encourage folks to submit ideas and you can even indicate that you don’t want to present on it. We’ll help find the right people to make it happen if it is what the community wants.

We are looking for submissions from:

  • Seasoned public speakers
  • New public speakers with ideas/stories that simply need to be shared
  • Underrepresented individuals and organizations
  • Folks sharing great ideas for others to speak on

Also – don’t be afraid to engage on social media to brainstorm. Just check out the dialogue between Chris Tuttle and Tim Samuel!

What Makes for a Good Submission?

So what is the NTEN Community looking for? 60% of respondents to the 15NTC survey said they wanted more “Technical How-To” sessions.

A great example of this type of session would be the Google Analytics session that Yesenia Sotelo did last year. It was a dynamic session that packed the house.

Yesenia Sotelo 15NTC session

Some other topic areas of high interest include:

  • Website governance & future-proofing
  • Mobile Engagement (outside of fundraising)
  • Nonprofit tech staffing, professional development, and talent retention
  • Getting buy-in and support for internal tech projects
  • Hard tech skills across a range of topics
  • Building comfort with digital tools for “non-technical” staff and volunteers
  • Tool evaluation and selection
  • Sessions specific to smaller organizations

For more ideas, see the full list here.

What Has Already Been Submitted?

One of the big changes this year is that you can see what others have submitted before getting your proposal in. You can do that in a couple ways on the submission platform this year.

  • Use the tags
  • Use the search box in the upper right corner

16NTC Session Submission platform

Still have questions? You can get help from us and the entire NTEN Community on Twitter using the hashtag #16NTC, or send us an email at events@nten.org.

Ash Shepherd
Ash has been in love with the nonprofit sector for nearly two decades, where he has worked in the areas of conservation, environmental education, social work, youth program development, and technology consulting. He has been an active member of the NTEN Community, serving as a co-organizer of Portland’s 501 Tech Club, and completing a three-year term on the NTEN: Change Journal's Editorial Committee. Ash earned a B.S. from the University of Montana in Resource Management and a Masters in Environment and Development from the University of Kwa-Zulu Natal in South Africa. He is a well respected public speaker and has developed numerous nonprofit resources including the Nonprofit Social Media Audit and co-authored the Social Media Road Map.
June 21, 2015

Implementation Best Practices: Data

Cloud for Good has recently published an eBook to highlight best practice recommendations for CRM implementation, including considerations for executive sponsorship, business processes, data, automation, usability/scalability, and analytics based on our and our customers’ success stories and lessons learned.

The first question any time that we hear phrases like “Best in Class,” “Best of Breed,” or “Best Practices” is: who decided the best? What we have learned is that best is relative and often dependent upon experience, trials and, most often, failures. We believe that one has to go through a challenging if not difficult experience at least once in order to learn how to do it better the next time.

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Nothing sinks a new implementation faster than bad data. Users will quickly lose faith in the tool as well as those leading the implementation effort if incomplete, incorrect, or irrelevant data is present. Start your data migration journey by asking yourself the following questions:

  • Why do you need to migrate your data? Is the “why” the same for your team, colleagues, and others involved? What is your purpose?
  • What use cases and critical functionality do you need to preserve? What are the underlying data implications?
  • Who will be involved in the data migration process? Who are the key players in this project? What about the stakeholders and the subject matter experts?

Additionally, what compromises can you make to simplify the data migration?  Should you consider excluding records based on such factors as:

  • Is the older data in your system(s) being used?
  • How far back do you want to migrate data from? Do you really need call logs from 1975?
  • Are there tables or fields in your database(s) with little to no information?
  • Do you have a large amount of duplicates?
  • What new data/functionality do you need to support?
  • Where should the data go? How will the design and customization of the target CRM impact the new data structure?
  • What are your data reporting requirements and does the data model support those needs?
  • Will you need to migrate multiple data sources into one system? What are the unique identifiers for these systems? How will you avoid duplicate records?

There are a lot of questions you’ll want to ask to make sure this is done right. The questions I shared are the most common. After you answered these questions review the following best practices.

Data “Dos”

  • Put a great deal of effort into data cleansing, and task users with the cleanup process. Focus not only on de-duplication, but also data quality including completeness and adherence to data policies that you wish to implement and enforce in the new tool. For example, you might enforce complete contact names (Mary Unknown is not a valid contact) or a requirement that every Opportunity/Donation must have a Contact Role.
  • Assess objects and fields for usage and appropriateness to current business processes and reporting. Changing tools is analogous to moving; ideally, you will not pack up every single item in your old home and move it to your new home. You want to review your data in the same way and start with only relevant data in the new tool.
  • Create a data map that identifies each object relationship as well as each field’s data type (text, picklist, date, number, etc.), precision or length and security requirements.
  • Consider the interdependencies of data and process (which is the driver and which is the result, for example).
  • Have a data management strategy to moderate and maintain clean data over time.

Data “Don’ts”

  • Don’t bring over unnecessary or irrelevant data. Far too often we have seen organizations put tremendous staff hours (and consultant hours) into the migration of severely aged data that is required neither for compliance nor for regulatory purposes only to hear months or even years after go-live that the data has never been accessed.
  • Don’t create data requirements and validations as substitutes for process, management, or end-user training.
    • As an example, there was a customer whose administrator was hearing complaints from the fundraising team that they were not getting timely notification of newly won donations in order to plan their acknowledgement process. The system administrator’s solution was to enforce an approval process before any donation could be closed as won. A better solution would be to create a workflow rule to notify the fundraising team when a donation record reaches a certain stage and then again when the donation is won.
    • We often see marketing teams struggling with incomplete prospects that they are unable to qualify because they have no means of contacting the prospect to follow up. We most often see that the system administrator will require both the email and phone fields on the lead page layout. What they later learned was that many leads were never entered because users had an email or a phone number, but not both. A better solution would be to create a validation rule that requires all new leads to have a phone number or an email.

You can download the Implementation Best Practices eBook to learn more about how to maximize your investment in your CRM implementation.

Tal Frankfurt
Tal Frankfurt (@TalFrankfurt) is Founder and CEO of Cloud for Good, a certified B Corporation and an Inc.500 company, that works with organizations to create and implement strategic Salesforce solutions. While working as a spokesperson and director of resource development for a nonprofit organization, Tal was looking for tools to better manage his constituents (donors, volunteers, the media etc.). He heard about The Salesforce Foundation and this started a snowball effect. The rest, as they say, is history. He founded and led a Salesforce Nonprofit User Group and was exposed to the growing need for many nonprofits to integrate technology tools such as Salesforce to achieve their mission. Subsequently, Tal founded Cloud for Good, a consulting firm that works primarily with nonprofit organizations and educational institutions. ​​Tal ​was chosen in 2010 to be one of the first Salesforce MVP Program members and has maintained that status to date.
June 19, 2015

Small Data & Parvenu Analysts

This article was originally published on the DataScopic blog. It is reprinted here with permission.

duSoleil1The most exciting Excel workshops that I’ve taught included having the attendees take turns plugging their laptops into the projector, and asking for help on some vexing task.

These “rodeo sessions” are opportunities for the students to focus attention on their real work instead of prepared examples. The result is immediate improvement in efficiency, the accuracy of their calculations, or in some cases increased confidence. But there are 3 things that keep coming up:

  1. Parvenu analysts are the masses of smart people who are going into data-driven roles, and they don’t have a data mindset or background
  2. A lot of folks really don’t need much technical skill in order to get their work done
  3. A lot of the world still has high stakes in the accuracy of small data

Let’s explore …

The Parvenu & the Data Mindset

This is something that Keidra Chaney was the first to bring to my attention. When a person transitions from the doing of a task and starts managing that task, data management often comes with the new role. The brand new Call Center Supervisor, Fundraising Director, Social Media Strategist … they all start getting reports, and important people start requesting details; spreadsheets are emailed to them, and a common cry is:

I don’t even know where to start.

Here’s the news: if you’re one of these people, you’re an analyst even though it’s not in your title. You’re a parvenu analyst: the outsider who’s risen up to be among the business analysts and others who may have received some formal training or certification. You may not be accepted as an analyst among analysts, but if you’re responsible for data being right, you’re an analyst.

So, the starting point is to accept that you’re an analyst and data is going to be a big part of your life.

Being an analyst and having a data mindset starts by understanding what you want to ask about the data and what you want to ask of the data. A good analyst can’t be afraid the the Cheshire Cat, and that’s what a dataset can be: it’ll answer your questions with riddles and more questions.

Cheshire Cat

When data shows up on your desk, don’t jump straight into making calculations and telling those important people what you’ve found. The source data could be horribly wrong. Instead, ask questions of this Cheshire cat.

Asking About The Data and Reports (Can the Data be Trusted?)

  • Is this report complete?
  • The data is up-to-date as of how long ago?
  • Is the data updated in real time, daily, weekly, bi-weekly, etc.?
  • Is the data clean, or do I first need to clean out the duplicates, parse addresses, match account numbers with the names of the account reps, and reformat dates?
  • Do the formulas in the report accurately reflect the business rules?

Asking Of The Data and Reports (Does This Data Have the Answers to My Questions?)

  • What do I want to measure, summarize, or extract?
  • Why and for whom are we asking questions of the data?
  • What would be nice to know vs. what do we need to know?
  • Do we need additional reports or data to help fully answer the questions that are being asked?

That’s data analysis! We can teach someone an Excel IF statement and how to write VBA code. However, for someone who’s not used to working with data, they immediately need to start developing an automatic reaction for asking the right questions.

Someone who asks the right questions and copy-pastes their way through the analysis is much more valuable than someone with the technical skill and minimal curiosity.

In this blogpost, Inside the Mind of an Analyst, I describe how Kevin Lehrbass of mySpreadsheetLab brilliantly takes us through a non-technical tutorial where we get to listen to how he thinks through, “What are the different ways that close win can be defined and measured?

Similar to Kevin, a parvenu analyst might ask, “what do we call a refund?” Maybe you don’t want to count refunded shipping charges. You might create several summaries: every type of refund no matter what, including shipping and taxes; refunds only on items; or refunds of just shipping. The answer to these questions are guided by the why, for what, and for whom?

Necessary Technical Skills

The top 3 Excel features that consistently show up as most helpful to people who are new to working with data:

A surprising number of these parvenu analysts don’t need much right away, especially when they are within established processes. The questions they’re trying to answer are basics like: How much? When? How many? How long? Who?

Eventually, all analysts are faced with data cleansing:

  • Clearing duplicates
  • Correcting misspelled city names
  • Peeling apart phone numbers and zip codes that got into the same field
  • Figuring out if Bob Jones and Robert Jones are the same person

That stuff is hard, no one is formally trained to do it, and most hate doing it. We all figure it out on the job. This is finally being talked about as the dark side of Big Data’s glamour.

Getting to the Sexy Data is a blogpost based on a New York Times article that accurately describes the dirty “janitor work” that comes with managing data. Some people spend their time 20% analysis, 80% cleansing. So, imagine someone who loved social media, got promoted, and is now spending a huge amount of time cleaning data. That can feel like a dirty trick – especially when they didn’t expect it and it’s not a strength of theirs.

The solution isn’t always found in a subscription service that’ll create pretty reports. No. We’ve got to prepare, train and empower our people so that they develop a thought process, and get the skills.

Small Data Is Very Much Alive

The third thing that I have seen is that, in spite of big data’s sex appeal, small data hasn’t gone anywhere. In fact, we’ve got more of it, requiring more parvenu analysts.

According to the US Small Business Administration, 54% of sales are generated by small businesses. The IRS shows that 68% of active nonprofits generate less than $250,000. These are small entities that aren’t part of the big data conversation.

Also, add in the people who are in small departments in large companies. Those small departments aren’t always the IT team’s priority. Still, the small businesses, nonprofits, and small departments all have data that we rely on.

What’s the Point?

A lot of the conversation about big data, data-warehousing, and anti-spreadsheets is unfair because there isn’t much said about who should be in the conversation and who shouldn’t. Caught up in the conversation are businesses and nonprofits that are too small for, or haven’t matured to the level of, affording and being able to sustain centralized solutions along with the additional person on the payroll who would be needed to run something like SalesForce. A fantastic article that’s worth reading is by Joe Shepley, VP at Doculabs. Technology Can’t Ever Solve the Information Management Problem is a reminder of the people-processes-tools trinity that’s required to make anything work. So, let’s give some attention to the parvenu analysts and the integrity of our small data.

Image credits: Numbers graphic courtesy of disco-ball; Cheshire Cat image courtesy of feliciacano.

Oz du Soleil
Oz du Soleil is a Microsoft Excel MVP. He's an Excel Trainer whose courses have been described as fun and they get people to relax about using Excel. Oz is a U.S. Navy Veteran, and loves good bourbon, and spicy food. Above everything else, Oz's commitment is to clean data.
June 18, 2015

Accessible, Portable, and Actionable Data

kidsdataMany nonprofit organizations and public agencies are still unsure how to use data in their work. Where do we find the data? What do all of these numbers mean? There are so many spreadsheets! We don’t have any data experts on staff! How can we use data to further our mission?

To help people in the nonprofit and public sectors spend less time hunting for data and more time serving kids and families, we built kidsdata.org.

More than 10 years ago, the Lucile Packard Foundation for Children’s Health realized that it was challenging to find data about children’s health and well-being. Data were locked up in printed reports and on hard drives. If you wanted to use data, you needed to spend countless hours tracking it down and making sense of it.

Technology has changed a lot in 10 years. Millions more people have access to the Internet. Government agencies are making their data available to the public. Portals and apps are springing up to make data more accessible. Because data are increasingly available, you are almost expected to use data if you want to illustrate the need for change. And the need for something like kidsdata still exists.

Why use kidsdata?

More and more data are available to the public today. However, “available” doesn’t always mean “useful.” Kidsdata aims to provide data to nonprofit and public sector organizations — often challenged by limited time and resources — in a way that enables them to use data easily.

So, what differentiates kidsdata from other data sites?

  • It’s a curated collection of data that have passed rigorous requirements
  • We do the work for everyone: we gather, display, and explain data from more than 35 trusted sources
  • It allows nonprofits, local governments, school districts, legislators, and advocates to find relevant data for free
  • It has an easy interface to visualize specific regions, years, and data types
  • It is wide-ranging but specific: the site features over 500 indicators of child health and well-being in California
  • Most importantly, it allows users to access and use the data to help children and families

Skip the treasure hunt

Kidsdata offers users multiple options to find data. Most people start at the list of topics on the site, and then drill down to the indicator they are interested in, such as “Education and Child Care” or “Environmental Health.”

For those who serve a particular geographic community in California, we offer the data by region section. Our site includes data for every county, city, school district, and legislative district in the state.

Users can also find data about specific demographic groups, such as adolescents/teenagers, children with special health care needs, racial breakdowns, and more.

Data to go

It’s simple to include a customized graph or chart in a grant proposal or embed it on your website. There are four ways for you to take it with you by clicking on “Download & Other Tools” to the top right of any graph:

  • Copy an image of your visualization into a Word document or PowerPoint slide
  • Download the data into an Excel spreadsheet
  • Get a PDF overview of the topic and insert your customized graph
  • Embed your graph in your website or blog

These options make it simple for anyone to use data to advocate for better dental care for kids, for example, or to increase funding for school nurses.

Graphs, bars & pies

All kidsdata indicators can be visualized in different ways. In one click, you can switch a table to a trend graph, bar chart, map, or pie chart. Data visualizations can help tell stories in ways that best resonate with specific audiences. No need for a fancy graphic designer – kidsdata displays your customized data automatically.

We’ve done the homework, too

The narratives and resources that accompany kidsdata visualizations give crucial contextual information to interpret data. Each indicator has a description of how it’s measured. There are also explanations of why the topic is important, how children are faring in California, and policy implications. The background information available on kidsdata gives users a better understanding of what the datasets mean.

No dusty data here

We are continuously updating our data throughout the year. Anyone can sign up for e-alerts that notify users when we update data in the topics, regions, or demographic groups that interest users most.

Kidsdata success stories

We want nonprofits and public agencies to use kidsdata to support their work. We’ve made a vast amount of important data easy to find, use, and understand so that users can best improve the lives of children. Kidsdata’s Data in Action section features stories from organizations that have used kidsdata to further their impact. There are also tips and links to other free resources.

Visit kidsdata!

Today, the Internet is home to a massive amount of data, but many data sites are clunky, confusing, or out of date. Kidsdata is a uniquely straightforward home for key data on children in California.

Stacy Clinton
Stacy Clinton is the Programs & Partnerships Web Manager at the Lucile Packard Foundation for Children’s Health. She works to ensure kidsdata.org, lpfch.org and lpfch-cshcn.org are full of useful information. She is an adept project manager for website redesigns, CRM database management, and online communication and engagement. You can find personal musings from Stacy on twitter @stacyjclinton, or follow the latest kidsdata news from @kidsdata
June 17, 2015

Why a Culture of High Performance Must be Your Priority

“That is what every nonprofit needs, but can’t afford.”

High Performance
Image credit: FutUndBeidl

This was said to me by a nonprofit director after I described that my organization helps nonprofits measure and communicate their impact and value.  She is not alone. Many nonprofit leaders incorrectly perceive efforts to achieve high-performance cultures and taking a data-driven approach as luxuries they cannot afford.

My new acquaintance was correct in believing that every nonprofit needs to be engaged in efforts to measure and manage to their outcomes. Organizations with high-performance cultures systematically collect and use a variety of data to manage operations and demonstrate their effectiveness.  New research outlined in the book Impact & Excellence reveals that nonprofits with high-performance cultures are significantly more likely to report increases in positive press, funding, efficiency, staff morale, and organizational change.  Despite these outstanding benefits of using data to drive communication and management of nonprofits, only 24 percent of the social sector reported achieving these important cultures. Lack of funding and resources are often cited as the main obstacles.

There is good news, though. This perception is a myth! No correlation exists between an organization that is successfully using data to demonstrate effectiveness and its budget and size. In other words, there are several small nonprofits excelling in using performance measures while there are very large departments not using or collecting vital data.

How nonprofits demonstrate and communicate effectiveness are predictors of organizational success. Demonstrating impact is becoming increasingly more important as funders and donors have become more interested in paying for outcomes. Nonprofits that excel because of their data-driven practices go beyond using performance measures and outcomes data as an external reporting tool. They have the right performance measures, organizational structures, and leadership in place to systematically use data to manage programs, make improvements, and demonstrate their unique impact and value.

Greatness starts with the commitment of the board and leadership to move from merely collecting data, to achieving excellence with their information.  Following are three distinct features that separate the “great” from the “good enough.”

1.    Defining Success:  Great organizations measure success based on the distinct impact they are making and the effectiveness of their services relative to their resources. In addition to measuring their number of services, they also should measure outcomes — the extent their programs and services have changed lives and circumstances for their participants, stakeholders, and communities.  For example, this means having meaningful data to show your programs improve knowledge, attitudes, behaviors, and economic conditions.

2.    Leadership:  Great nonprofit leaders never take their eyes off their mission. They lead with humility and passion and do whatever it takes (ethically) to fully realize their mission. They align their measures with this mission. Great leaders use these measures to make course corrections when results are less desirable.  Once the data has been analyzed, great leaders celebrate success when desired targets are met.

3.    Communication:  In order for performance measures to be a value for nonprofits or any organization, they must drive change or action by both internal and external stakeholders (e.g., staff, funders, and volunteers). Great organizations consistently use their performance measures to make adjustments to operations and programming to seek greater results.  For example, if a nonprofit notices that success rates are declining or increased new behaviors are stagnant, they will use the data to investigate the reasons for these trends.  They use this information to justify new programs or training.  Performance and outcome data are shared publicly with donors and elected officials to help increase the support and budgets of their programs and services.

Great nonprofits will let go of the excuse that performance and outcome measurement processes are unnecessary or too costly. Instead they ask, “How can we achieve our desired impact and excellence?” Measurement is an essential tool that will help nonprofit leaders achieve greater community impact and positive public perception, regardless of the organization’s size and budget.

The first step toward achieving excellence is to create and use success measures. Once this commitment is made, nonprofit leaders can find the time or resources needed to successfully engage in measurement activities. Those who are successful know that high performance is achievable, can fit within their budget, can be done with their own staff, and will lead to positive results!

Image credit: FutUndBeidl

Sheri Jones
Sheri Chaney Jones specializes in helping organizations successfully create high-performance cultures that drive results. For over fifteen years, Sheri has improved government, nonprofits, and small businesses through the use of performance management, evaluation, and organizational behavior best practices. Her experience and expertise has transformed the culture and as a result saved public dollars, improved outcomes, demonstrated effectiveness, and increased revenues. Sheri is the author of Impact & Excellence: Data-driven Strategies for Aligning, Culture, and Performance in Nonprofit and Government Organizations (Jossey-Bass, 2014). Sheri enjoys educating and inspiring others by writing a monthly blog on measuring impact and presenting at conferences and seminars. In addition, Sheri is a adjunct faculty with Franklin University teaching organizational behavior. Sheri earned her M.A. in Industrial and Organizational Psychology from Central Michigan University and a B.S. with distinction in Psychology from The Ohio State University.