Data plays an important part in how your organization is run, but oftentimes, it can be hard to connect dots. When you look at one piece instead of the full picture, you isolate data, leaving gaps in your overall service delivery thanks to nonprofit silos. A good habit to get into, as practiced during the Journey Towards Outcomes Excellence session at Impact Summit 2018 led by Josh Gohlike, is to ask questions to ensure that your outcomes are comprehensive and align with your mission.
Gathering your team to ask these five questions can strengthen your organization, break down nonprofit silos, and help your service delivery have a bigger impact.
What is your mission statement?
This question provides a base to build upon. Before you can act upon any data, or even begin to track it, you must understand what you’re trying to accomplish. Having a comprehensive understanding of your organization’s mission statement is a great first step towards figuring out what data your organization should track in order to accurately report on outcomes. Without knowing what you’re trying to accomplish, setting up data collection that can work for your entire organization will be difficult.
Your organization, for example, can decide that your mission statement is to help the low-income members of your community and give them opportunities to succeed. You probably already have a mission statement, but it’s critical to go back to your mission to ensure that this data exercise sets you up for success.
Who do you serve?
Asking who you serve builds upon the foundation you started when you addressed your mission statement. Deciding on those parameters give you your first set of data points to track for later reporting, and it gives direction to your mission statement.
If your mission statement is “to help a low-income community”, deciding that you’re going to serve children of high school age in the community gives you an idea of what needs to be accomplished. Be specific in naming your audience. Without making that distinction, you could decide to try a dozen different things that might help a dozen people but doesn’t create the impact you’re hoping to have.
What does your data need to answer?
Your data needs to serve a purpose. It’s great that you’re collecting data, but it’s more important to put that data to use. What do you need to prove your organization is doing? What outcomes do you need to back up with data to better tell your clients’ stories?
With nonprofit silos, proving your impact becomes harder because your data is so disjointed. Making a clear decision on what you want to know can help break those silos down.
Back to our example: your organization can decide it’s helping low-income high school students in the community, but how is it doing so? Deciding to track the grades of students coming through your tutoring program is a great outcome to show that you have made a positive change in your community. It follows the data to the end and proves your impact. Think of this as your data mission statement: this is what your nonprofit’s reporting should drive towards.
How does data help?
Now that you’ve figured out some of the data your organization needs to track, you need to answer the question “why are we collecting this data?” Teaching data best practices among your new staff can make your process of breaking down nonprofit silos easier, but being able to explain why you’re doing it makes the process more palatable. It also proves the importance of keeping your data flowing between your programs and throughout your organization. Data helps guide service delivery.
In our example, your organization wants to help low-income students in your community, and your data needs to answer whether or not tutoring after-school is going to have your hoped outcome of a higher graduation rate. How does your data do that? By tracking the students who come to your tutoring programs based on their attendance and grades, you can prove that you’re accomplishing your mission statement. If your data doesn’t reflect your intended outcome, you’ll be able to see that.
What is your action plan moving forward?
Having all this data readily available by breaking down nonprofit silos strengthens your organization. It gives you clear focus into what you’re trying to accomplish, who you’re trying to help, and whether or not your efforts are leading to your intended outcomes. If data was siloed, you might be able to tell that you are helping high-school aged children, that you are offering tutoring, but it doesn’t clearly show how many of those students are attending or if it’s helping.
Having your data organized and available at every part of the organization can show your impact , but it can also show you the gaps in your service delivery. From there, you can develop an action plan to do even more for your community. If the data says your freshmen aren’t improving in English as well as you’d intended, you can work towards offering more English-specific sessions. That combines demographic data, program data, and grade output data. Take that, nonprofit data silos!
Here’s one more example, based on the same collected data. Maybe you’ve noticed since growing, more students have been showing up but not doing as well. Trying to offer more, smaller-sized sessions might improve scores. You can only arrive at this conclusion if you have all the right data available in the same place. That’s the power of this exercise!
Being able to act upon your data is the easy part when you have a clear overall picture. Nonprofit silos can be a hindrance to service delivery, and are easy to fall into. The important thing to do is address the basics to identify gaps so that you can act upon them and get a more holistic picture of your service delivery so that you can create a bigger impact.