In recent years, we have seen an increased focus on outcome measurement. Gone are the days of warm and fuzzy anecdotal evidence. Funders now need, indeed demand, hard numbers in the form of data proving that measurable changes are being made resulting in necessary outcomes.
Much like the recently graduated college student who bemoans that they need experience to get a job, but cannot get a job without experience, nonprofits can find themselves needing more focused and accurate data to get funds, but without the funds to improve their data collection practices and capacity.
Many agencies react to inquiries for more outcome-based data from funders in a defensive manner – they know what they do is good; you will just have to believe them. In the current climate, this simply is not effective. Without adapting data collection methods and improving quality assurance with respect to that data, agencies can find themselves losing funding or even having to close their doors.
Being faced with a significant revamping of your data collection system, or having to rethink which data to collect can feel overwhelming. Keep in mind that the move toward the most efficient and effective collection of evidence is an evolution, not a one step process. Also remember that making strides in data collection will inform your best practices and make you more attractive to potential funders.
- Examine your current data collection. What data are you collecting? How complete is that data? What measurable objectives are you examining?
- Focus your efforts on the data that informs objectives, as opposed to that which only measures activities.
- Focus on outcomes that are most important to your clients and that resonate with potential funders.
- Strategize about which data will be most useful to illustrate to funders that your measured outcomes relate to their preferred outcomes.
- Stick with data that is credible, important, and best illustrates where and how your agency is most impactful.
- Look into the possibility of partnering with research studies, university programs, and think tanks to conduct an assessment of your current data and data collecting practices.
- Write in the cost of updated data collection software into your grant applications.
In addition to providing funders with data, it is critical to show that you have a well thought out data collection plan that is sustainable. Articulating why you are collecting particular data can illustrate the intention in your data collection plan. Showing collaboration with community partners on needs assessments, developing evaluation tools or funding an upgraded data collection system can help you be much more attractive to potential funders.
When building an effective data collection strategy for your agency, quality assurance is critical. Without quality assurance, your data is inherently suspect, no matter how much of it you collect. Incomplete or inaccurate data can be more damaging than no data whatsoever.
Increasing your agency’s data discipline will enable you to improve your programs, as you will be basing your decisions on more accurate information. Social Solutions can help with its ETO software, which will continually enhance your quality assurance efforts, as well as helping you tailor your data collection activities.
Maternity Care Council (MCC) of Philadelphia, PA has seen its budget nearly double after rigorously examining what data it collected and how it was collected. They revamped their data collection system and introduced a quality assurance component.
MCC views their data collection and quality assurance efforts as a constantly evolving part of their agency, one that is vital to their mission and to their success. They continually adjust their assessments and reports to be more responsive to their needs, both as a service provider and as an entity seeking resources from a number of diverse funders with varying purposes. MCC included its data about client outcomes in all the major grants it submitted in 2014, and was awarded every one.
For the first time in the agency’s history, client outcomes provided validated evidence of quality. Outcomes also demonstrated MCC’s capacity to collect and report data, enabling MCC to apply for a higher level of funding for the first time and to receive funding for a full-time Quality Assurance staff member.
Who wouldn’t want to double their budget? Let the MCC be an inspiration to your organization. Other agencies can follow this path to increased funding and more effective services by strengthening their data collection practices and ensuring that there is quality assurance throughout.
To learn more about how your organization can achieve more mission with data-backed decisions and reporting, contact one of our solutions specialists.