Understanding and showcasing your nonprofit’s data

Understanding and showcasing your nonprofit’s data

Important: The comments presented below are those of Social Solutions and not Charity Navigator. The information does not serve as a direct guide to earning a Charity Navigator Impact & Results beacon within the Encompass Rating System.

Donors want to support nonprofits and charities they know are making a difference. However, to illustrate your organization is making a difference, you need to showcase your data to demonstrate your full impact. As you probably know, this is easier said than done. Often, aggregating the correct data, quantifying it, presenting it thoroughly, and then sharing your results with donors in an easy-to-understand manner is laborious, time-consuming, and just plain challenging.

To more efficiently share outcomes of your social good programs and effectively engage your donors, we will dive into methods for understanding and measuring relevant data before discussing strategies for displaying and communicating this information to supporters, funders, stakeholders, and beyond.

Measuring Success

For some nonprofits and programs, measuring the success of their programs is more straightforward and feasible to track. But for others, it can be challenging to define a metric that explains what you do and how successful you are in doing it. For example, a youth services organization can track how many students attended an after-school program or how many school supplies were provided to a school system. By contrast, it is more challenging for the same youth services organization to provide abstract data that is more difficult to quantify. For instance, how did school supplies impact the youths’ interest in school?

Most nonprofits running social programs are aware of this and try to account for this issue by incorporating a monitoring and evaluation strategy into their case management practices. Doing this allows them to note their impact on specific clients and programs and then track trends across their organization.

Specifically, organizations with this approach look at two types of data to get a holistic view of the program’s results:

  • Quantitative data includes any measurement that can be represented with a number. For example, a nonprofit combatting homelessness may record how many clients they were able to find permanent housing for in a given year. 
  • Qualitative data depicts aspects and features of the subject the organization is measuring but with language. This type of data evaluates components of a nonprofit’s impact that can’t be measured numerically, such as how satisfied clients are with ongoing programs. 

On their own, both data collection methods have advantages and drawbacks, but together, they often complement each other, which is why collecting and considering both types of social program outcomes data is so important. 

Let’s revisit the example of the organization combatting homelessness. While they can track the number of people who found permanent housing each year, they may not be able to quantify how likely someone is to become homeless again. Still, they can look at risk factors discovered during a qualitative assessment and use their case management software to generate a report based on those factors. 

Additionally, nonprofits addressing community-wide problems will need to isolate how their efforts specifically impacted the community, even when many factors are at play. 

Sharing Your Program Outcomes

Your nonprofit can share your program outcomes with supporters in various ways, such as displaying your most notable accomplishments on your website or providing a more detailed breakdown in your annual report. Dedicated emails highlighting recent successes, especially stories about those your organization supports, can be particularly effective.

Due to the complexity of depicting a social program’s impact through data, your nonprofit should take steps to ensure your data presentation is transparent, easy to understand, and avoids sensationalization.

Data and statistics alone are often difficult to visualize, and without proper context, supporters may come to false conclusions about how impactful a nonprofit actually was. You can avoid this by:

  • Providing examples to help supporters envision your support
  • Adding context and reference figures to help explain statistics 
  • Using images and graphics to explain complex processes

Also, think critically about what information you choose to share with supporters regarding your results. You can create more trust with supporters by remaining transparent and sharing information that interests them, even if your nonprofit doesn’t have anything impressive to report. This trust is vital because it can lead to continued support and increased donations, significantly increasing the overall picture of the programs aligned with your mission.

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Donors want to support organizations they know are making a difference, and the best way to do this is with data. But social programs deal with complex issues that need to be measured in complex ways. So, take a holistic approach to data collection and evaluation, and present your findings to supporters that prioritize context, understanding, and transparency. When you understand and showcase your data effectively, it provides provable, impactful efforts that can be tracked over time, ascertaining the difference your organization is making.

Written by Molly Cleveland. Molly is a content marketer at Social Solutions, which is coming together with CyberGrants, EveryAction, Network for Good, and their respective entities to become Bonterra—the second-largest and fastest-growing social good software company in the world. Molly focuses on developing thought leadership and educational content and works with industry experts to help provide the social good sector with best practices,  insights, and connections to ultimately do more good.

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