Tag: reporting

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:

  1. 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.”
  2. 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.
  3. 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.

In 2016-2017, a Washington, DC–based nonprofit with a staff of about 40 and a 3.5 million-dollar budget undertook a redesign process to convert a ColdFusion website into a content management system with a custom mobile-responsive theme.

To make sure the finished results worked, the website team made strong efforts in:

  1. understanding the overall needs of the website,
  2. involving staff in specifying their own needs,
  3. determining content types,
  4. thinking in terms of lists,
  5. testing against assumptions,
  6. creating reporting mechanisms, and
  7. wireframing/building/testing/refining,

Feedback loops were built in to the ongoing process in order to course correct and gain early constructive criticism from internal stakeholders.

Tip #1: Understand overall needs

The team tasked with pre-planning the redesign process undertook a review of existing web pages and reached consensus that content belonged under different lenses, programs, campaigns, and actions.

The team identified the organization’s theory of change, current audience, new website objectives, comparables, desired functions, specified revenue models, and desired budget and timeline, and circulated this information via an RFP.

Example A. Website RFP Top 10 List

Better storytelling -> Optimized content -> Engages more people -> More social change -> Greater financial support -> Fulfills our mission.

Top 10 must-have list (goals for the site):

  1. Increased email sign ups, social engagement, and activists
  2. New donors: the website needs to encourage people to sign up as donors with attractive donation pages
  3. Stay on budget. We are open to creative work share solutions
  4. Clarity and Simplicity: needs to give visitors a clear sense of Green America’s work
  5. Attractiveness: A clean look, beautiful storytelling, and responsive design
  6. Flexibility: we do lots of stuff. Our ability to adapt has always been our secret weapon. Our website needs to be flexible to handle our diverse content and programs
  7. Ease of Use on the backend: we will have many editors with various technical expertise (the ability to update the website frequently is essential)
  8. Integration of all our channels and platforms: Daughter Sites, Blogs, Social, Digital Publications, Apps, SALSA (action CRM), Raiser’s Edge (fundraising CRM), Charity Engine (donation pages)
  9. Authentic product/sponsorship placement
  10. Visual Story: Telling our stories in a visually compelling manner to better engage audiences and increase shares of our materials

Takeaway #1: What to do

During pre-planning, convene individuals across different teams to construct a shared model for content. Aim for transparency around budget, timeline, and requirements for the website.

Tip #2: Involve staff in identifying their own needs

By mapping out content across major areas, staff better clarified their understanding of how content fit into lenses, programs, and/or campaigns. A pilot content management system allowed staff to test their assumptions against real data.

Example B. Early model of content hierarchy and structure

Team members continuously articulated how content fit into the proposed data architecture. For example:

Lens Program Campaign Focus Area Action Issue Topic
Food GMO Inside

Good Food for people and planet


No GE Wheat


Say no to GMOs


Factory Farms


Tell congress to stop trading our food stystems.

Tell congress to reject TPP

Tell Kraft to Remove GMOs from Miracle Whip

Tell Starbucks to go organic

Let Mars know you say no to GMOs

Tell American What Growers Association no GE Wheat

Soil not Oil

GMOs a case for Precaution
Don’t have a Cow

21 foods to always buy organic

An external design firm worked with staff to sketch out user personas, delve into content relationships, formalize roles and permissions, and determine the initial menu.

Example C. Sample site map content

Food Climate Labor Finance
Fight GMOs Fight Dirty Energy Ending Child Labor Save for Yourself and a Better World (banking)
Beyond Organic Invest in Clean Energy Ending Smartphone Sweatshops Divest from Fossil Fuels, Invest in Clean Energy
Fair Labor Better Paper Ending Sweatshops in Supply Chains

Finding Fair Alternatives

Green your Money/ Finances (investing)
Take Action:____ Take Action:____ Take Action:____ Take Action:____

Takeaway #2: What to do

Allow multiple opportunities for individuals to voice concerns, update assumptions, and validate the model against live data.

Tip #3: Determine content types

Content types evolved whenever staff identified a long bulleted list of the same type of content. For example, blog posts, media mentions, events, staff listings, job descriptions, magazines, press releases, and business listings all converted to “content types.”

Required fields emerged from discussions about content types. For example:

  • Media Mention = Title, Website link, Image, Byline, Body text
  • Business listing = Organization Name, Categories, Website link, Image, Address, City, State, Zip, Body text

Example D. Sample content type for a blog post

This is an example of blog fields:

Field About the Field
Blog Post Type Multiple choice, multiple answer, choose from categories)
Body Long formatted text
Display Image Image upload allowing for pngs, jpgs, or gifs
Business Network Recommendations References a list of all available businesses in a related directory
Relevant Lens Multiple choice, multiple answer, choose from a list of available lenses
Relevant Program Multiple choice, multiple answer, choose from a list of available programs
Relevant Campaign Multiple choice, multiple answer, choose from a list of available campaigns
Tags Free tags in keyword style

Certain fields existed across content types. For example, the “Relevant Lens” field attached to campaigns, programs, actions, victories, and press releases.

Takeaway #3: What to do

Create fields for each type of content. Identify fields to repurpose across content types.

Tip #4: Think in terms of lists: referencing entities and normalizing data

Certain fields became standardized and used across multiple content types. For example, almost all content types require an image field, so content types used a “Display Image” field.

As another example, blog posts, media mentions, programs, campaigns, and actions all used the same “Relevant Lens” field to reference available lenses.

As a final example, blog posts, articles, and green living pieces used the same “Relevant Program” and “Relevant Campaign” fields as reference fields. The list of all available programs or campaigns continuously updates upon the addition of new programs or new campaigns.

The idea of “entity referencing” allows users to continually grow and easily make changes, because any list of referenced content is always “up-to-date.”

Normalizing means an edit to a specific piece of content perpetuates through all instances where that piece displays. By using normalization, categorization of items, and entity referencing, it became easier and easier for any privileged user to make changes sitewide.

Example E. Data normalization samples

5 Most Recent Blog Posts: On a blog post, a list of the 5 most recent blog posts displays on the bottom of every page, in descending chronological order (most recent first). Any new blog post auto-adds to the list. Any edit to the title updates in all instances.

Fruit List: A fruit list begins with apples, oranges, blueberries, and bananas. Additions like blackberries, peaches, plums, nectarines, mangoes, strawberries, and papayas automatically display on the “Fruit List.”

Fruit List Categories: Categorizations on fruit include “Citrus” or “Berries.” Additions such as “Stonefruit” automatically update, such that a categorized list might read:

  • Berries: blackberries, blueberries, strawberries
  • Citrus: lemons, limes, oranges
  • Stonefruit: nectarines, peaches, plums
  • Tropical: mangoes, papayas
  • Not Yet Categorized: apples, bananas, starfruit

Takeaway #4: What to Do

If an “edit” button makes sense next to every item in a list, convert that list to a content type: most useful for items such as blog posts, press releases, events, staff listings, directory listings, and similar content.

Tip #5: Test against assumptions

During the buildout, question if the articulated data structure matches staff needs. By taking time to find and correct incomplete/faulty assumptions about content relationships, all stakeholders better understand the final product.

As an example, a “Magazine Issue” offers the ability to choose from a list of available “magazine articles” in order to display “featured articles.” A “Lens” offers a display of “relevant pieces.” In one case, our team mistakenly focused on “parent” relationships for content, and based on feedback, turned that into focusing on “child” relationships.

Example F. Choosing relevant pieces on a lens

A “Climate” lens shows a green living piece “Cut Your Carbon at Home” and a blog post “Add Socially Responsible Investments to Your Workplace’s Retirement Plan.” On any lens, the “entity reference” field helps specify relevant pieces, in their desired display order.

Takeaway #5: What to Do

Course correction takes time. Identify, test, review, and go back to the drawing board based on feedback from editorial and program staff. Large projects require flexibility to address initial incorrect assumptions.

Tip #6: Create reporting mechanisms

Reports help staff understand the website content better. Report-building benefits when customized to the specific type of user requesting that report. Early beta versions help identify gaps and allow the user to continuously access, understand, and download available data in order to make suggestions.

In an iterative buildout, the technology team benefits from early feedback. Conversely, an administrator or executive reviewing a prototype report better understands what is available to them and makes more informed requests about new fields and filters.

Technology teams who engage with end users by requesting, correcting, and fine-tuning build more relevant and useful reports.

Example G. Sample administrative reports

  • Recently Updated: a list of all recently created or updated content
  • All Green Living Pieces: a list of tips on green living
  • All Press Releases: a list of all generated press releases
  • All Blog Posts: a list of all blog posts
  • All Lenses: a list of all major areas of work
  • All Programs: a list of all available programs, sorted by lens
  • All Campaigns: a list of all available campaigns, sorted by program and lens
  • All Victories: a list of success stories
  • All Staff: a list of all people who are staff members, consultants, and interns

Takeaway #6: What to Do

Reports help users understand the existing information. Create a new report for each content type and fine-tune as needed.

Tip #7: Wireframe, build, test, and refine

Prepare to be exhilarated, challenged, rewarded, and exhausted by the minimum viable product process. Technologists build digital tools twice: once in the mind, and second in reality. Prototypes help with the process of getting feedback across internal stakeholders. Drawings, mockups, and paper versions all assist teammates in understanding the proposed redesign architecture.

Build in a refinement period into the website redesign schedule so there is time to clarify and details that weren’t addressed the first time around.

Example H. Mindmap about Homepage

Mindmap about Homepage includes a Box called Enter, with arrows coming out that display Lenses: Food Lens, Finance Lens, Climate Lens, and Labor Lens. Other arrows go to five other sections. 1: Current Program Highlights, which leads to Relevant Programs and Relevant Campaigns. 2: Current Campaign Highlights, which leads to Relevant Campaigns and Relevant Actions. Relevant actions continues to Salsa Action (third party). 3: Current Action Highlights, which leads to Relevant Actions and All Pieces. 4: Piece Highlights, which leads to All Pieces and Focus Areas. 5: Sign up for E-news. 6: Donate (third party embed)

Image: Member Landing Mockup

This is a Balsamiq-generated mockup image to help the team understand different pieces for the member landing. It includes a main block with three tabs called My Biz Listing, My Coupons, and My Ads. There is a second block underneath called Members-Only Documents. On the left sidebar is a list of Announcements. Inside the My Biz Listing tab is four bolded field labels and text as follows: 1st line - Title: My Green Business Listing. 2nd line - Date Updated: 2017 January 7, Description. 3rd line - Description: lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipisicing elit, sed do ejusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. 4th line - Categories: Children, Pets, Clothing. 5th line: (edit this listing).

Takeaway #7: What to Do

Tools such as Balsamiq, LucidChart, and Invision assist stakeholders in gaining clarity around mental models: use them liberally. Your platform never really reaches completion, so build in time post-launch to continuously improve.


Technology professionals create effective tools to champion positive social, environmental, economic, and political change. By integrating feedback loops early and often, these tools spread the message, educate the populace, gain support for the cause, and make a positive difference.

Today’s global supply chain is an expansive and enigmatic network. Much uncertainty lies beneath the surface of your smartphone and favorite pair of jeans. Who made them? Where did they come from? Was the factory manufacturing this product a dream job or a place of nightmares? It is hard to know—for you the consumer, and for the company sourcing from factories across the globe.

The new field of “WorkerTech” is addressing this lack of supply chain transparency and accountability. Earlier this month, Green Biz highlighted 9 tech companies with WorkerTech solutions that are shining new light on labor and social justice issues in the manufacturing, construction, and microfinance sectors. On this list is Good World Solutions (GWS), an Oakland-based nonprofit social enterprise that activates appropriate technology to help companies build more socially-responsible supply chains. Leveraging the spread of mobile phones in developing and emerging markets, GWS’ Laborlink platform enables factory workers to report anonymously on their working conditions in real-time, directly from their mobile phone.

Laborlink is part of the broader “Lean Data” trend, a shift in the way nonprofits and social enterprises collect and use technology in the field. Lean Data is characterized by four key elements:

  1. Customized: Data collected is tailored to the needs of the organization, not one-size-fits-all
  2. Customer-Centric: Information needs are focused on beneficiaries—or “customers” in the social enterprise lens—not driven by the needs of donors or investors
  3. Actionable: The purpose of the data is to inform strategic decision-making, not used for reporting
  4. Timely: Mobile and other cost-effective technologies enable reliable, real-time data collection that was previously impossible or cost-prohibitive

Let’s look at these concepts in action through the lens of Laborlink’s efforts to improve conditions for factory workers, construction workers, and microfinance borrowers.

Each of the 3 examples below addresses a customized issue specific to the local environment and to the needs of the target population (making it customer-centric). Laborlink leverages simple mobile technology to collect data that was quickly visualized into actionable analytics, providing companies and factories with the timely insight to make worker-centric decisions to improve conditions and worker well-being. (See this earlier post on NTEN to see how Laborlink works.)

  1. In apparel manufacturing: “Was it made in a hazardous working environment?”

Standard factory audits only occur once or twice a year. This provides companies with a small snapshot of their supply chain and lingering questions about what happens the rest of the year. By providing workers with a free communication channel, workers are empowered to be the real eyes and ears on the factory floor. When workers are frequently asked, “Do you feel safe at work?” companies receive vastly more insight between audits allowing them to troubleshoot new issues that might surface. Mobile surveys are also cost-effective, making it possible to scale and survey more frequently throughout the year. This provides companies with better supply chain visibility and gives key decision-makers the ability to quickly detect warning signs of hazardous working conditions.

  1. In the construction sector: “Are workers’ rights and pay protected?”

Laborlink polled workers in the construction sector in India about wages and employment status. Workers were connected to a vocational training program with investment from Acumen. Surveys were run side-by-side with three different methods: automated calls, live calls, and face-to-face interviews. The pilot identified that the Lean Data method of automated calls through Interactive Voice Response (IVR), while requiring shorter and simpler surveys, has advantages of being more scalable and cost-effective (a few cents per call after initial setup cost).

  1. In the microfinance sector: “Were borrowers mistreated by loan officers?”

Asking sensitive questions about mistreatment such as harassment is not easy. Mobile surveying, however, makes this possible by providing an anonymous and secure channel that allows respondents to feel safe. From a survey conducted with microfinance borrowers in India, Laborlink received 9 times greater disclosures on sensitive questions compared to live agent call centers and face-to-face interviews. With mobile, rural borrowers can easily listen to questions in their native language (no literacy required) and discreetly respond using the keypad.

With advancements in WorkerTech, there is potential to capture and provide Lean Data in every sector of the global supply chain. Only then will it be possible for companies to clearly navigate their supply chains and effectively surface and respond to all workers’ vulnerabilities.

Since 2010, Laborlink has reached more than 350,000 workers in the supply chains of major apparel and electronics companies in 16 countries, including China, India, and Bangladesh. Already on a trajectory to reach 1 million workers by 2018, the vision of Laborlink is for every worker to have a free and anonymous channel to report directly to decision-makers about their working conditions and needs in real time. You can find out more about Laborlink on Good World Solutions’ website.

In 2013, NTEN partnered with Idealware to create Getting Started With Data-Driven Decision Making: A Workbook. The workbook has since been downloaded and used by diverse organizations in the U.S. and beyond. We frequently use the workbook and processes it outlines in NTEN Labs, one-day, hands-on workshops. We even use the workbook internally here at NTEN.

After a year of using the workbook, we’ve identified issues that frequently emerge as organizations work to build data management and evaluation programs. In these new worksheets, you’ll identify technologies that can help you collect and understand your organization’s outcomes data, as well as strategies for encouraging the highest-quality data you can collect. You’ll also explore how your metrics can combine to tell a story about your organization’s programs that can be presented to your stakeholders or core constituents. Finally, you’ll learn how to tailor that story to better address different stakeholder groups.

Please log in to access this workbook

Cover of the 2014 NTEN Community Survey Report

NTEN conducts an annual Community Survey to find out more about the individuals and organizations in the NTEN Community: we want to find out how these individuals and organizations use technology in their work, gauge the impact of NTEN programs and services on their professional development and their organization’s missions, and track trends in the nonprofit technology community over time.

Please log in to access this report.

In the summer of of 2014, we invited the NTEN Community to participate in the survey via direct email (we sent emails to contacts in our database who had not opted-out of receiving emails or participating in our research). We received survey responses from 1,039 individuals.

We separated our survey into two collector segments: one for Non-members and one for current Members, and, like last year, we received more responses from Non-members than Members, with 675 Non-member responses, and 364 Member responses. One update that we’ve made to the survey for this year is to convert a 4-point rating scale on many of the satisfaction/rating questions to a 7-point scale. You can read more about why we did this on page 2.

We’d like to note that the NTEN Community does not reflect the makeup of the broader nonprofit community. Responses and demographics of this particular group reflect, rather, the current state of what we call the nonprofit technology sector, which is made up of nonprofit staff working in various roles in their organizations (from CEOs to Program Assistants), as well as consultants and technology service providers.

Key Findings from the 2014 Survey

  • 23% of the overall NTEN Community considers their organizations to be at the “Leading” level on the Tech Adoption Spectrum. This is a slight increase compared to last year’s survey in which 20% reported that their organizations were at the top end of the spectrum.
  • NTEN Membership impacts how respondents rate their level of Tech Adoption: 31% of current Members are at the Leading level compared to 19% of Non-members at this level. Conversely, only 2.6% of Members reported they were at the Struggling level, while 11% of Non-members reported they were at this end of the spectrum.
  • While Leading organizations do tend to have larger annual operating budgets — as we’ve seen in previous years — we also continue to find “Leaders” across all budget sizes, including 14% who come from organizations with budgets less than $250K.
  • 78% of respondents from Leading organizations indicated they have a technology-related
    professional development training budget, compared to just 49% of the overall community.
  • To be part of the community of nonprofit leaders is the primary reason respondents become Members of NTEN, followed closely by “general professional development and training.”
  • NTEN Research has moved up to become the second-most valued resource among NTEN Members in this year’s survey, following the perennial favorite: the Nonprofit Technology Conference (NTC).
  • We are pleased to see that the NTEN Community is taking advantage of the opportunities to connect and build professional networks this year: 501 Tech Clubs, Communities of Practice, and NTEN’s online discussion forums all significantly moved up in ratings this year among Members and Nonmembers in terms of being valuable resources.
  • The relevance of NTEN resources and information was ranked among the most satisfying aspects of NTEN Membership this year for the first time.
  • We continue to see Executive Directors/CEOs as a growing constituency among the community, especially among Non-members, and see more Fundraising/Development professionals participating in the community as Members this year.
  • As we saw last year, when asked about key organizational challenges regarding technology, respondents make clear that as technology becomes more necessary across all job functions at an organization, the burden of training all staff to execute projects and strategies consistently has become greater: they feel challenged to find the time, funding, and the right resources to train their staff.
  • Respondents this year also emphasize “integration” as a key challenge their organizations are currently facing: once organizations have tools, and the staff to use them, their big challenge becomes integrating their data, channels, systems, etc., across departments.
  • We continue to watch our “veteran” category of current Members grow this year, with over 17% reporting membership tenure greater than five years.

Data Analysts for Social Good

  • Breaking down data silos.
  • You don’t have to be a data analyst, but you will need to know how to collect and understand data.
  • You don’t have to use the best tools right away. It’s alright to say “This is the best tool for now.”

Andrew Means launched Data Analysts for Social Good in his spare time to address a need – a better understanding of how to use data not just to maximize inputs, but to show the importance of data to support organizations functioning more efficiently and effectively.

This case study was originally published along with a dozen others in our free e-book, Collected Voices: Data-Informed Nonprofits. You can download the e-book here.

NTEN: Andrew, you’ve spoken with NTEN before about your experiences with data at the YMCA of Metro Chicago. Now you work at Groupon and spend a lot of your spare time launching Data Analysts for Social Good (DASG), which offers webinars, a LinkedIn group, and an annual conference. Why did you start DASG?

Andrew Means (AM): I saw no one talking about data well. Fundraising analysts, marketing analysts, program evaluation people…everyone was so siloed. We were all using the same skills, underlying tools and methods, but applying them to different parts of our organizations. Data shouldn’t be siloed to one team or one person who pulls lists. The real power of analytics and social science research is that you can address a number of questions using the same kinds of tools and skills. And most organizations don’t know where to begin. We have very little human capital around this in the nonprofit sector although this has grown immensely over the past couple of years. DataKind and others are doing phenomenal work connecting data scientists to nonprofits, but the long-term solution is to have the next generation of executive directors, nonprofit leaders, and people entering the sector really understand these tools from the get-go.

NTEN: How are you creating a data-informed culture as you grow DASG and prepare for your second annual Do Good Data conference?

AM: The hard thing about starting an organization is that you have no data to begin with, so you have to create your own. I’m enough of an analyst to know my data points are really weak. But I try to use data as much as possible to generate content. I put out a survey in the early stages of planning the second conference, asking potential attendees what they want to learn. Now, as I line up conference speakers, I can look at that survey to make sure I’m delivering.

Another example: Every two weeks or so I send an email out to my list. I track click-to-open rates to make sure I’m giving people what they want, and sending these at effective times of day on the best days of the week. I used to believe that I should send all emails at 5:00 a.m. so that they’d be in my subscribers inboxes first thing in the morning. But when I paid attention to the numbers, I started to see a bit of a jump in opens if I sent them in the early afternoon.

I use a lot of free tools: MailChimp for email, Eventbrite for RSVPs, Google Analytics, and Google Forms. They’re fine for now. Thats something not enough people really consider. Its OK to say I have what’s necessary. I don’t want to use it forever, but it works for now and I’m moving forward. It’s worth dipping your toes in the water.

NTEN: What else should people keep in mind as they dip their toes in?

AM: We live in a world that makes it possible to measure so much, from apps that track what we eat, to Fitbits that track where we go. How do we allow these things to inform us but not control us? With that in mind, I ask myself: Is my community growing? How many people can I reach through social media? When are the best times of day to do that? Did this email outperform the list average? Its not super formal; I’m letting the data inform me, but getting the email out is more important than succumbing to analysis paralysis.

NTEN: That said, you are looking to grow DASG strategically. How do you see yourself professionalizing this organization? Is that the goal?

AM: DASG started as a happy hour 18 months ago when I sent out a few tweets. I have been surprised by its success. It’s easy to get caught up just doing the work of running a growing organization; I forget to step back and look at, say, the Eventbrite data from the past year which can help me analyze which webinars performed best. I want to standardize my email practices and create standard surveys for all webinars. I got a tremendous response when I surveyed the people who came to our first conference. So it’s about taking the time to collect the data but also to reflect on it. And for me, that’s about rhythms: taking the time weekly or monthly to reflect and plan.

NTEN: If you hired an employee, what rhythm would you want them to be in? What would you ask them to regularly report to you?

AM: Right now email is big. I’d definitely ask for regular reports on:

  • Revenue, since we have to make sure this is sustaining itself
  • Attendance at webinars and events
  • List growth for both email and LinkedIn

Where people on both the email list and LinkedIn are coming from geographically. In 2014, I’d love to do more events outside Chicago. I need to see where we have the highest concentration of subscribers.

NTEN: Why is it so important to you to create spaces where people can come together and talk data with their peers?

AM: Everyone is talking about data, but not in ways that will benefit us in the long term. Of course there are some organizations I really respect. But too often, analytics are used to maximize our inputs, not our outcomes. We use data to raise more money, attract more donors, and send effective direct mail campaigns. I’m not seeing data applied as rigorously to help us think about actually being better organizations. We need to step back and think critically about what we exist to do.

NTEN’s mission is to support all nonprofits in using technology effectively to better reach their missions. To that end, accessibility and diversity are important to us, influencing our membership dues, program fees, and conference rates. It is also why fundraising is an important component in our organizational health: not only does it allow us to do our work, it allows us to provide our programs at low rates and even extend scholarships to organizations and their staff who would otherwise not be able to participate.

Thank you!

We’re lucky to have a community filled with incredibly generous members. The 2014 NTEN Challenge included board members and community members all fundraising on behalf of NTEN, raising funds that would directly provide 2014 NTC scholarships, and access to year-round NTEN programs and membership benefits. We are so very thankful for this group of champions that helped lead a successful campaign; and sincerely grateful to all those that donated to ensure as many organizations as possible can connect, learn, and make real change together in 2014.

The campaign isn’t over, either! Since funds donated to the 2014 NTEN Challenge support scholarships throughout 2014, you can always add a donation to your purchase of an NTC registration, webinar registration, or even your Membership. Or, you can donate directly at any time and we’ll continue to invest those funds in making our work accessible to the entire nonprofit community.

Campaign Report

For the first year running the scholarship-focused campaign, we have not had an official sponsor providing direct support or matching funds. Firefly Partners generously included scholarships for four attendees in their NTC sponsorship package – be sure to thank them when you see them in the NTC Science Fair! That means nearly all of the dollars raised came directly from individuals this year – even more proof that this community is passionate and dedicated to helping all those working to change our world.

Here’s the 2014 NTEN Challenge campaign by-the-numbers report, based on donations received by January 27, 2015:

  • Number of Community Champions (fundraisers): 32
  • Number of dedicated NTEN emails sent about the campaign: 4
  • Average open rate of fundraising emails: 31.54%
  • Total raised: $30,185 (so far!)
  • Median gift: $25
  • Average gift: $53.37
  • Number of unique donations: 399
  • Number of unique donors: 346
  • Number of donors who made more than 1 gift: 31

Giving Tuesday

This was the first year NTEN participated in Giving Tuesday on December 3rd. It was a really fun way to participate in a community-wide giving day and ended up as our largest single day of donations. Here are a few highlights specific to Giving Tuesday:

  • Total raised on Giving Tuesday: $2,266
  • Number of unique donations on Giving Tuesday: 50
  • Number of dedicated emails: 1 (they had the second lowest open rate in the campaign)

Thank You, Again

Thank you to the Champions who made this campaign possible! Your generosity and dedication to the nonprofit technology community is incredible and we are so honored to work with you all as the leaders of this sector. See someone on the list below that you know? Thank them the next time you see them!

  • Almin Surani
  • Allyson Kapin
  • Amy Borgstrom
  • Andrew Means
  • Ash Shepherd
  • Beth Kanter
  • Birgit Pauli-Haack
  • Cary Walski
  • Chris Tuttle
  • David Krumlauf
  • Debra Askanase
  • Edward Happ
  • Eileen Twiggs
  • Farra Trompeter
  • Jason Shim
  • Jereme Bivins
  • Jody Mahoney
  • John Merritt
  • Laura Norvig
  • Lynn Labieniec
  • Maddie Grant
  • Miriam Cook
  • Nancy Schwartz
  • Norman Reiss
  • Paula Jones
  • Richard Rappleye
  • Richard Wollenberger
  • Robert Weiner
  • Rusty Burwell
  • Steve Heye
  • Steve MacLaughlin
  • Tom Krackeler

All of our donors will also be thanked in the 2014 NTC Program Guide – we are so excited to see the list of NTEN supporters growing each year!

  • Lexington, KY
  • 5 Staff

How does an advocacy organization measure its effectiveness in a data-driven way? Rich Seckel, director of the Kentucky Equal Justice Center, admits it can be a challenge. It’s difficult to be in a multi-variant world trying to prove causality,” he said.

The poverty law organization advocates on behalf of Kentuckians in need, serving as a watchdog for the state legislature, keeping an eye on bills that are filed and lobbying lawmakers. Rich said measuring effectiveness through data boils down showing funders data that supports not just his nonprofits impact on policy changes, but on the lives of people who benefit from its victories.

In 2003, with the state under intense pressure from the federal government to cut Medicare spending, the governor announced a series of changes that would save $45 million but would terminate nursing home or home healthcare coverage for 3,300 disadvantaged Kentuckians. To challenge the cuts, KEJC enlisted the National Senior Citizens Law Center and sued the state on the basis that the measures were solely to save money and therefore illegal. However, they didn’t have data to support the case that the cuts were unjust.

The Medicaid cuts were fairly unpopular with the electorate, so during the next gubernatorial election both candidates promised “not to kick people out of nursing homes.” When a new governor was elected the following year, counsel for the state agency expressed interest in settling the case. In the settlement, the agency pledged a return to the earlier standards, to review all people who had been denied or terminated from long term care, and to report on the results. Using that data, Kentucky Equal Justice Center found that 97 percent of those who had been denied benefits or whose benefits had been terminated had been restored long term care coverage – about 3,300 of them.

Three of the 10 plaintiffs named in the lawsuit KEJC filed contesting the cuts died before the issue was resolved, demonstrating not just the seriousness of the issue but that access to the right data can make or break an advocacy groups case.

KEJC’s work directly improved the lives of more than 3,000 Kentuckians, but often the situation isn’t so clear-cut, Rich said. Just about every funder he works with wants KEJC to evaluate its success in human terms, which can be tricky though; policy successes can be easily measured, the results cannot. The data he needs to demonstrate these results often come from such external sources as state agencies, he said, and can be hidden under layers of bureaucracy. One way around that obstacle that has worked for him, Rich said, is to establish relationships with friendly legislators or state government employees who will share reports that never get released to the public, but which have the data that he needs to show his organizations impact.

As part of a foundation grant given KEJC to boost its infrastructure, Rich was required to meet periodically with a trained evaluator who helped him understand the science behind the statistics the organization was tracking. That statistical analysis training showed him how many different variants come into play in the organizations work, and the different ways they can and should be interpretedin other words, he said, it gave him a conscience about ascribing too much change to the efforts of his nonprofit.

“We don’t brag too much,” he said, but conceded that maybe the organization should work a little harder to publicize its measurable results. “We probably need to get better at that.”

This case study is part of the research project in 2012 conducted by NTEN with the help of Idealware. See the State of Nonprofit Data report for more information about how nonprofits are–and aren’t–making data part of their decision-making processes, and the key challenges that affect an organization’s ability to be more effectively “data-driven.”

A large metropolitan nonprofit paves the way for data-centric organizations with a dedicated team of data analysts.

YMCA of Metro Chicago

  • 500-600 Full-Time Staff
  • $110 Million Budget
  • 23 gyms, 5 camps, 14 community schools

The YMCA of Metro Chicago is a big organization, with a $110 million budget and a physical infrastructure that includes 23 gyms, five camps and 14 community schools, all supported by nearly 600 full-time staff and thousands of part-time fitness instructors, afterschool staff, and other human services personnel. In addition to gym visitors, the nonprofit provides services for hundreds of Chicago public school students and as many as 700 seniors each week.

That many moving parts means a lot of opportunity for data-tracking, which the YMCA sees as a priority to an extent that few other organizations do. To that end, a three-person performance improvement team focuses entirely on data.

“There’s no other human services organization I know of that has a department like us that’s tasked with doing this thing in particular,” said performance improvement analyst Andrew Means. “We track operational data as well as impact. No other Y across the country has this office, as far as I know, and no other organization has poured these kinds of resources into data.”

His job on the data team “is to help operate our business more efficiently and help quantify and understand the impact were having through quantitative methodologies,” he said—at least, that’s the long version. The short version: He digs through data and builds relationships. And that data is expansive, he said.

“It’s getting to the point where I can look at class registration and what programs are full, and track youth attendance at our different programs and facilities,” he said. That information can be used to measure impact through fitness testing in the programs. “In 12 of our centers, were tracking youth heights and weights, flexibility, you name it,” he said. “So, I’ll be able to start tracking that and see what the populations were working with look like. I can also compare that to the general population to see if were attracting just healthy kids, or if there are any other patterns or opportunities.”

The goal is to make sure the YMCA of Metro Chicago is offering the best programs it can.

“We’re a city in dire need of services, Andrew said. Our youth are suffering from a variety of social problems. Our CEO knew that to lead the charge, we’d need to know what we were doing in a way that was more than anecdotal stories—and, we’d need to be able to back that up with hard data and some science behind it.”

The CEO’s desire for the Y to become a community leader led to the focus on data and improved program outcomes. But there’s a secondary goal beyond improving services, Andrew said—the data reporting capabilities are critical for attracting funders.

“Philanthropy and major donors want to see this,” he said. “Now we can approach them and say, ‘Hey, you have a myriad of programs to fund, and we’re the only ones who can tell you what our program has done—these are the facts and figures.’ Funders want to fund high quality programming. If we can show that, if we can prove that, it’s going to be a very attractive offer to philanthropic organizations.”

The team is working to link data tracked internally to external data, he said—for example, from state and local juvenile justice agencies, which would let Andrew track whether the Y’s academic programs are having any effect on crime and delinquency rates in the city—but isn’t there yet.

“There’s a lot of different ways we get data from the field,” he said. “One is operational data—we know how many people are signing up, how many are checking in to our facilities, things like that. But there’s all this other information our boots-on-the ground people have to collect. We’re really trying to move toward taking enrollment data—who is showing up?—and connecting it to other data sources to see if our programs are moving the needle on juvenile justice, or school attendance rate.”

While none of it would be possible without the support of the CEO and the buy-in of the entire organization, neither would it be possible without recent advances in technology that facilitate the tracking and processing of so much data—from the membership cards users swipe at YMCA facilities, which provide detailed attendance records that he can use in concert with other participant data, to the software for managing, analyzing and reporting on that information.

“It would not have been possible 20 years ago to do the kind of analysis were doing today,” Andrew said, citing as an example a current project looking at 12 years’ worth of data presented in seven million rows. “Being able to do that with technology? That’s new. Data is useless unless you can communicate it, too, and those tools are really evolving.”

While the YMCA of Metro Chicago has a leg up thanks to its devoted data department, he said other organizations are slowly beginning to think more proactively about data, as well, but overall the field is still emerging.

“There are nonprofits interested in learning how to use data, but in most cases the capacity is lagging behind what’s being asked of them, and they’re kind of playing catch up”, he said. “A lot of organizations are connecting nonprofits to data scientists, but that doesn’t solve any long-term problems with nonprofits—it has to be built from within.”

The YMCA of Metro Chicago’s model changed the organizational culture to make data collection and analysis intrinsic, and Andrew believes that’s the way other organizations will succeed, as well—even if its on a smaller scale. “Find someone in your organization to do it—someone who likes Excel, he said. Begin to groom them and give them some capacity to do this stuff. I’m a big believer in expertise. People are beginning to talk this language without really knowing what it means, and are saying things they can’t support. They talk about impact but the data they use to back that up is actually inaccurate. Having data is not enough. Being able to interpret it is the next step.”

“If I can leave one mark on the world, it’s that I want nonprofits to use data to improve programming,” he said. “The reason nonprofits exist is to solve problems in the world. For too long, nonprofits have been responsible for telling stories and making sure they weren’t wasting money, but they didn’t know if they were solving problems—now you can actually know if you’re solving problems and you can show funders that. This needs to happen. We have limited resources and should not waste any more time.”

This case study is part of the research project in 2012 conducted by NTEN with the help of Idealware. See the State of Nonprofit Data report for more information about how nonprofits are–and aren’t–making data part of their decision-making processes, and the key challenges that affect an organization’s ability to be more effectively “data-driven.”