Social Solutions started its Impact Summit series with one goal in mind – to bring passionate people in the social good sector together to collectively expand and accelerate nonprofit impact through the use of innovative technology and collaboration. We wanted to inspire and enable every person in the room to make a difference in people’s lives. While our goal hasn’t changed, our annual conference has.
In October 2019, we hosted attendees in Austin, Texas, and – new to this year – virtually at our partner organizations in Denver, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, and Kansas City. More than 500 viewers tuned in to the livestream throughout the day. We talked about what’s new and next with our software, what to expect from emerging trends and technology, and how nonprofits can use data to attract funding and improve the lives of those they serve.
We had the honor of kicking off the day with Social Solutions partner and Co-Founder of Ballmer Group, Steve Ballmer. Steve shared a number of his keen insights, observations and suggestions for the sector. He stressed that technology and data are crucial to help nonprofits track impact; collaborate with participants, communities, and funders; and finally, build a better future for our children. I wanted to capture a few of his key points to share with any and all of you, in case you missed this live session.
Use Data to Track and Prove Impact
Steve emphasized early that nonprofits must constantly ask themselves: How are our programs impacting the people they serve? It’s hard – if not impossible – to answer this question without data. While output and numbers are insightful, they only tell a small piece of the story. Impact is about more than numbers. Impact can only be illustrated through telling data-driven stories.
Steve illustrated the importance of data to tell impact stories as follows:
A nonprofit might report that it enrolled 25 children in its after-school program one month. This is interesting information, but it doesn’t show impact. It’s merely an activity. Activities are necessary to create impact, but they aren’t the same thing. Saying, “We helped serve 25 children” doesn’t give nonprofits (or funders) the full picture of a program’s effectiveness. To do this, nonprofits must discuss the impact through a data-driven story.
“We enrolled 25 middle-school students into our after-school tutoring program last year. Of the 25 students, 18 raised their math grade from a C to an A, and 10 enrolled in advanced math courses the following year. Additionally, studies show that more education and higher grades lead to higher-paying jobs. This indicates both short-term and long-lasting positive effects of just one year in our program.”
Using data allows nonprofits to share success stories as well as track, report, and iterate on their approach.
Use Data to Improve Services
Steve also focused on using data to target services to individual children., He talked about our partnership with LINC, where we can now see the positive impact that their student programs are having on their students’ outcomes at schools, including better school attendance and improvements in math, science, and reading scores.
What this means for children is that their specific needs can be met. Let’s say your nonprofit specializes in serving meals to children in underserved families. Data from your case management system may show one family has two unemployed parents and three young children. This family – and these children – may need more attention and assistance from your organization versus a family with one working parent, one unemployed parent, and one child.
On a broader scale, data helps different sectors partner work together to uplift communities. For instance: nonprofits, public schools, and technology providers like Social Solutions often collaborate through education-focused, public-private partnerships. The goal of these partnerships is to expand opportunities for children in – and beyond – the classroom.
By using software to securely share student data across sectors, public-private partnerships break down the data silos that inevitably exist between these entities. This increases transparency and communication between partners, making it easier to provide 360-degree support and services.
Ultimately, these partnerships that use technology and data can amplify student success and increase impact. Greater success leads to better outcomes and more opportunities for students later in life.
Use Data to Engage Funders
Harnessing data to increase funder engagement was another Impact Summit 2019 theme. More and more, funders want to know how they’ve helped your nonprofit create lasting impact. One way to show your funders their impact is through personalized thank-you notes. You can include a data-driven story about how their specific contribution impacted an individual.
Funders want information that shows an organization is delivering on its mission, and data storytelling may inspire them to engage more deeply. Competition for funding is a constant in the nonprofit space. The more data-driven stories an organization can tell, the more it will stand out in the crowded fundraising landscape.
Use Data to Build a Better Tomorrow
Technology and data allow organizations to work more efficiently and serve more people while increasing impact.
At the end of the Impact Summit 2019 fireside chat, Steve left us with the vision he and his wife Connie have for their work through Ballmer group: help ensure that every child has the same opportunities when they’re born. We are far from realizing this dream. But Social Solutions continues to accelerate its roadmap with the help of the 2018 Ballmer Group investment. We are committed to harnessing technology and data to ensure that a better tomorrow for all children isn’t just our vision – but the reality for future generations.