Measuring What Matters: How Funders and Nonprofits Can Leverage Data and Technology for Impact

September 9, 2016 Annie Rhodes

I had the pleasure of attending the Mission Capital Conference in Austin, Texas, a unique opportunity to convene with an energized group of thought leaders in the social good space. I led the panel, “Measuring What Matters: How Funders and Nonprofits are Leveraging Data” and was joined by Adrian Bordone, Vice President, Strategic Partnerships at GuideStar, and Peter York CEO and Chief Innovator at Algorythm. Our panel discussion unpacked the role that data and technology plays in the relationship between funders and nonprofits and how critical this relationship is to accelerating success of the larger social good space.

Three overarching themes emerged from our conversation as areas to focus our energy on as a field moving forward.

Access to Data

Access to Data is no longer about someday. Current technology advances have given us a low cost to entry so everyone can participate. There are free models like Guidestar, low fee models like Algorhythm, and others that help you run key parts of your organization such as grants management. Outcomes tools also give you the ability to track and share your data. At MicroEdge and Blackbaud, we have been conducting foundation research and have learned that they want to track outcomes but almost 85% of foundations don’t know where to get started. They look to other key players in the space to find this information. To enhance their impact, foundations and nonprofits should leverage their data through platforms like Guidestar, Algorhythm, and Blackbaud Outcomes.

Partnerships

We all agreed, the key to partnerships is breaking down silos that have been preventing data sharing. Once cross sector players start sharing what has worked, what hasn’t worked, and begin to ask for help, we can start to recognize gaps in the field. This visibility will encourage more partnerships for funding, specifically, partnering to agree on intended results. Additionally, tools and technology can help support and grow partnerships. Let’s understand what is working and repeat it. Let’s also understand what isn’t working and pivot from there into a direction that will drive us towards more beneficial results.

Communication & Analytics

What has become more apparent and increasingly recognized is the need for a universal language and increased communication on data around progress and outcomes. This became a common truth throughout our conversation. We all agreed that the field would benefit from connected data through a universal language and increased sharing. But first, we need to figure out: Are we saying the same thing in a different way? How can we all agree that we are running towards the same impacts? Can we agree on the same language? Same results? Are we taking advantage of the ways that we can connect data today?

Analytics go hand in hand with communication.

They are the key to unlocking the meaning behind data. New analytical tools are also changing what we know today and how we can predict for the future. For example—we know if we provide an individual with specific services, their behavior will change in this way, and we know this from previous results and the data that was stored to track these results. This process can clear up misunderstanding and silos between funder and nonprofits and increase the impact of their partnerships.

Looking Ahead…

As the panel concluded, I was left with a few implicating questions that can help guide us in the journey to measuring what matters and enhancing the relationship between funders and nonprofits.

  • Are we willing to share failures?
  • Are we willing to put a stake in the ground and agree on a specific set of results?
  • Are we willing to share more information about our orgs?
  • Are we willing to shift our strategy and future planning based on our previous results?
  • Are we willing to invest in the right people and capacity in order to get us to the right results?

And finally, can we as technology providers and intermediaries in this space help better connect the sector so we can all be doing good, better?

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