Amanda Babine and Hannah Jacobson

Using Data to Make Your Case for Funding

N ot all nonprofits are good, and many are just mediocre. What is more frightening is that many organizations are unsure which they are. This uncertainty often comes from a lack of tracking and evaluating outcomes for their programs. There are many reasons nonprofits don’t use data and evaluation, such as a lack of staff, time, and resources. Organizations often believe the first step in implementing an evaluation is obtaining the expertise and knowledge to do so. However, for these skills to be successfully implemented, we must address the underlying fear associated with data, for example, being told their program is a failure. Through operational issues or emotional fears, many organizations have stalled on the process of measuring their impact. While some nonprofits welcome the idea of evaluation, others have been pressured to implement it. Many funders have started requesting or demanding that current or potential future fundees report on the outcomes of their programs. Following this lead, the fundraising field has been pushing people to participate in “informed giving.” One component of this includes making sure the agencies you are donating to have stellar results. In a generation where starting a nonprofit is easier and faster than ever, with no regulatory body to hold nonprofits accountable for their outcomes, funders and donors have moved to being more strategic when giving. How can you use evaluation to become more attractive to funders and donors? The major shift to define your organization as a leader in evaluation requires two values : Commitment and Capacity . Without a clear commitment from an organization at all levels, evaluations

sidering that same educational nonprofit: instead of only measur- ing annual progress, implement measurements throughout the academic year. Empower all staff to think purposefully about work- ing towards the same vision. Make data-driven conversations routine at all meetings, check-ins and discussions of effective program-

ming. Shifting your culture to becoming evaluation based will strip the fear out of the employees and elevate your work to focusing on successful outcomes. Capacity Together with commitment from your orga- nization,you will need to be realistic about the capacity of your organization. Consider the amount of knowledge, work, time, resources and energy your nonprofit has to offer. Are you able to create a genuine evaluation in- house or do you need to hire a consultant? As you already know, most nonprofits are stretched thin with most employees acting as a jack of all trades in their work. Thoughtful- ly decide who can do what with your current resources and creatively think about ways to become data-driven. Determining capacity is an individualized decision process for which you as professionals have the ultimate discre- tion and decision-making power. For example, consider a nonprofit with a staff member who has a heavy workload, but the knowledge to implement a basic evaluation. The nonprofit’s best course of action is to shift a project or two to another employee, giving the knowledgeable team member the time he/she needs to become a resource for the organization as a whole. Often agencies already have someone with baseline skills that can be developed – think about sending that person to workshops or conferences so that

often fail. An evaluation is not a simple task, but rather an ongoing project. Also, consider the capacity of your organization. Do you have the skills, time and resources needed to become data-driven and results-oriented? To shift your organization’s mindset, you need buy-in from each level of your agency in building the capacity needed to truly follow through with your commitment to authentic evaluation. Commitment Let’s further explore what these two values mean for your organization. How can you as a professional leverage your nonprofit? First, focus on obtaining agency buy-in. You want to convince all levels of your organization from ground level staff to Executive Boards/ Directors. To do this, think about how to propose this new evaluation initiative. For example, let’s consider an education nonprofit that partners with a local school to conduct afterschool tutoring. They will need to convince the tutors, teachers, education administration and the executive director that measuring their success will be beneficial. Thinking of people individually will enhance your pitch and help get more individuals on board. A second strategy is to make data-driven practices a part of your organizational cul- ture. Implement outcome-driven measures into daily conversations and practices. Con-

10 I Nonprofit Professional Performance Magazine

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