You’re sitting in your office, a little exhausted, a little frazzled, looking over piles of reports while filling out your grant application. No matter how hard you try to make time stand still, 5 o’clock seems to be coming at you faster than a bullet train down a mountain side.
How do I make this impact report meaningful?
How do I show how great we are?
Can’t I just say we’re “effective” and “impactful”!?
With everything on your plate, getting the numbers together can seem like an unscalable mountain. It makes you want to avoid the topic altogether.
Here at Datassist, we feel your frustration. However, since data is our job, we can’t let you keep feeling this way!
We’ve noticed that this avoidance reaction comes from two sources:
- A feeling that you’ll never have time to deal with the data
- The idea that when your data “gets out there,” you’ll no longer have control over it
Unfortunately, you’ll have to address both of these fears to get more funding from your data.
Though impact measurement has been considered too difficult, misleading, or simply not important, today funder requirements are driving impact reporting based on data.
The 2014 State of the Nonprofit Sector Survey Results (slide #15) indicates that, “70% of respondents reported that half or more of their funders request impact metrics for grant reports.”
This supports our experience, which is that grant applications not supported by data and data measurement have a smaller chance of getting accepted. And even smaller organizations are held to this standard.
Funding agencies need to know how well you’re managing your money and want to know that as much of it as possible is going to where it’s needed most. The National Resource Center’s Strengthening Nonprofits: A Capacity Builder’s Resource Library introduction states, “Outcome measurement has become one of the most important activities that social service organizations undertake.” This is true because, in addition to the need for evidence-based decisions regarding which activities to continue and build upon, donors require performance-based accountability for the use of the funds they provide.
Competition for funding is strong, and agencies need to be given a clear picture of your impact, or you risk their cutting your application in the first round if the data isn’t there.
Overall: avoiding data is just not in your best interest.
First, let’s help you deal with your time and control problems, then we’ll look at a case study of data done right for funders.
You don’t have time
The time problem can be solved in one simple way: Make data an ongoing part of your culture.
If you get your data lab coat on right now (instead of waiting a week until your application), you’ll always have the data when you need it.
By our calculation, you only need to spend about 5 to 8 hours a week on your data. If you split that up between a few people, that’s only 2 to 4 hours a week each.
The issue then becomes one of priorities and scheduling, not a lack of time.
(But juggling priorities is what you do, so you know how to prioritize and schedule with the best of them!)
You’ll lose control over your data
Once it’s out there, it’s out there. So you worry about how people perceive and assess your organization.
The problem is that without data,
the perceived impact of your program only comes from you.
When you provide data, external parties can create their own picture of the exact impact of your organization, which makes this information more reliable. Journalists and funders alike need that impartiality. And the more impartial the data, the more likely people will see it as “truth.”
How we did it
One of Datassist’s biggest achievements in helping an organization get more funding through data is the Strengthening the Dairy Value Chain (SVC) project in Bangladesh.
A partnership between CARE USA, CARE Bangladesh, and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the SDVC project helps the population get more out of the dairy chain.
Datassist developed advanced methods of analyzing this nonprofit’s unusually complex data, particularly on how the gender of group leaders impacts milk income.
Datassist produced not only a 150-page report with graphics that gave the organization tremendous insight into their operations (which was only appealing to a limited and technical audience), but also an infographic to help show what was happening with all that complex data.
Here, you can see right away that female main farm leaders (MFL) are doing better overall than male MFL, and all individuals did better with support.
This data was compelling: not only did the Gates Foundation to go for an entirely new round of funding, but several additional funders come forward to support the project.
You probably didn’t become a nonprofit professional because of a love of numbers. You started in this field from a desire to help people. And if you’re the artsy-fartsy type, you may find data a bore.
But you need data to tell stories your stakeholders can immediately understand.
If you care about what your organization is doing, then it truly is worth it to build a body of evidence about your impact on the world. That’s the only way that more funders will flock to your door.
Next up is part 3 in our 6-part series: The Indiana Jones Method for Choosing Your Go-To Data Expert
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