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Impact is not intent, it is the real-world difference your nonprofit makes, the results that flow from the work you do. Increasingly nonprofits, foundations, and government partners are focusing on impact rather than inputs for several reasons: to report to stakeholders, make allocation decisions or to revise current programs and strategies and more.
However, despite widespread awareness, most nonprofits do not engage in consistent impact evaluation. In 2016, only 12% of nonprofits allocated evaluation to their annual budgets; and of them, less than one-third have performed impact evaluation in the previous year. most lack the structure to implement significant organizational change on their own; others, lack the resources to acquire external support to perform the evaluation consistently.
Understanding data is no longer an expectation reserved for tech nerds who work behind the scenes. Today every nonprofit must be able to measure and track outcomes to articulate its effectiveness.
On a day-to-day basis, immersed in service to their constituents, nonprofits often distribute intake forms, update spreadsheets and even keep mental snapshots of their work – but simply having data collection processes is not enough. It is critical to track the indicators of success most vital to your nonprofit’s mission with surgical precision, then to effectively communicate it at regular intervals.
Areas of importance, depth of detail, formatting, and mediums for data reporting may all vary between stakeholders such as Board of Directors, Grantors, Volunteers, and Community Partners.
As an example, in the past, a mentoring organization was expected to report on their input or activities. An example, how often mentors and mentees participated in an activity together, is a metric focused on the program’s execution, but it does not speak to the program’s value. Today, those funders would expect nonprofits to show the number of mentees who went on to graduate from high school, attend college, and secure a job with sustainable income.
Sometimes implementing a data strategy means investing in technology, other times, the greater investment is staff-wide organization change.
Here are three powerful quotes from nonprofit leaders around the country on why they chose to implement a data strategy:
- Understanding data and measuring impact is a critical skill
Dr. Bennie Harris of Morehouse School of Medicine articulated that “being able to understand data and measure impact is now a skill equally as essential to a development officer’s profile as is the traditional soft skills the position has been known to require.”
- Good data leads to new insights.
Good data, accompanied by critical thinking, can also lead to surprising insights that allow nonprofits to serve our clients and our community in innovative ways. Jim Reese, Atlanta Mission President and CEO, shared “(After implementing a data strategy), we learned that more individuals stayed at our (facilities) than the total number of occupants of all other shelters in Atlanta. The data disproved the presumed transience of our residents.” As a result, Reese has challenged his team to think critically about how to better serve individuals who may be long-term occupants of the Mission, and they began to lobby for increased capacity.
- Out-of-the-box thinking can generate new streams of revenue.
Open Hand, an established nonprofit had long focused its programs on home-delivered meals and wanted to further improve local communities by way of nutrition education but we’re not sure how to start. Developing succinct logic models revealed a way to incorporate nutrition education into their existing operations, thus was birthed Good Measure Meals is a calorie and portion-controlled gourmet meal program. Good Measure Meals’ innovative business model has helped differentiate the brand from other meal plan services. John Jarvis of TechBridge Inc. who worked to execute the initiative praised the initiative, stating that Open Hand is “an organization that is thinking beyond the status quo when it comes to nutrition.” Matthew Pieper, Open Hand Executive Director stated Good Measure Meals “(enabled) Open Hand to offer better meal choices to customers.”
In more ways than one, data strategy provides a massive opportunity to nonprofits. Not only can a well-defined and implemented data strategy improve reporting, but it can also enable nonprofits to scale, innovate and solve real problems.
“At the end of the day, it’s about helping (people) in need,” Matthew Pieper, Executive Director of Good Measure Meals.