April is volunteer month, and before it comes to an end I wanted to take the opportunity to call out the importance of giving a voice to your volunteers and, by extension, your community. At UpMetrics, we often speak to the power of qualitative data. Numbers can only provide so much information – to translate those numbers into desired action, next steps, and a strategy that will impact the areas with the most need, you need qualitative data. Those on the ground can tell you whether they are seeing an impact of your efforts with the audience you intended, or if you’re indirectly solving for something else with your efforts.
We are at a crossroads in philanthropy, where access to data has increased in recent years but data capacity within impact organizations has not. As a result, only 50% of surveyed organizations are using the data available to them to inform their decision-making (Source). This fact presents a significant challenge to the ability of impact organizations to drive the level of positive change needed to tackle today’s complex issues.
Whenever we meet with potential clients across the social sector and the subject of data comes up, we are inevitably faced with one of two realities. The first, and most common, is that our partners have a lot of data but it lives in disparate systems making it very difficult for them to use this information to drive decision making. In this instance, we work with our partners to centralize their data into the UpMetrics platform so they can start to analyze and learn from this information. The other potential reality is that our partners have data gaps, and need help thinking through how to efficiently fill those gaps so they can effectively understand and report their impact. Luckily the UpMetrics platform can be helpful in this scenario as well. Here are three ways that the UpMetrics platform can help your organization address and fill data gaps.
Imagine you are doing a puzzle. You’re working on the top corner, perhaps a friend is piecing together the bottom border and their friend is tackling the always difficult middle area. While each person is responsible for their section, working independently, you’re all looking to achieve the same goal: completing the picture. Now, in my circle of friends it is hotly debated if you’re allowed to look at the box while assembling the puzzle, but we can all agree that it is infinitely easier to complete the puzzle when you can see that big picture. Not only do you then have a baseline of where you want to go, you can also check your progress along the way, making corrections if you’re trying to fit pieces in the wrong places.
Your organization has spent years collecting, inputting and storing data, ensuring you have your i’s dotted and your t’s crossed in terms of following best practices and requirements of data tracking and management. However, have you ever looked across your organization at the breadth and depth of the data you have, only to realize you’re not sure how to use all of this information? If your answer is yes, you are not alone. UpMetrics has been collaborating with many organizations like yours who are at a similar stage in their data journey. In order to get your data to work for you, to help guide your program, operations and overall strategy, there are a few key questions that you need to ask. In return you’ll have data with purpose that you can learn from, take action on and communicate out to your board, funders, or other partners. Here are a few questions to to guide you as you advance in your data maturity and start to get your data to work for you:
The grantee reporting dilemma is not a new one - foundations rely heavily on grantees to understand whether their investments are making a positive impact in the areas that they wish to support. And yet many grantees do not have access to tools or resources in the area of data collection and analysis. This results in time and energy wasted on reporting requirements and process - time that could be spent focusing on the organization's mission and driving impact.
The events of this year have forced all of us to examine this country’s history of racial injustice and to grapple with how we can play a part in solving this glaring systemic problem in our society. We have seen significant efforts from virtually every sector, as companies commit to be a part of the solution and tackle diversity, equity, and inclusion in a more deliberate and comprehensive way. The social sector has been a leader in this issue area for some time, but this year has shown a concerted effort unlike anything we have seen before as existing players take a larger role or offer a new approach to tackle these long-standing issues. In addition, it has been inspiring to see new players enter the sector, and take an active role in helping to drive positive change in this area. We have also seen an increased openness and appreciation for diversity metrics tracking and reporting with the ultimate goal to move the needle and drive greater impact.
The concept of digital transformation is not new in philanthropy. It is necessary to have a digital strategy to meet stakeholder expectations (and often requirements) around data collection and reporting. What we saw in 2020 was a shift in how we view this data. It is no longer enough to simply track and evaluate one’s data once or twice a year. This year demanded that impact organizations take an active stance to collecting and analyzing data, pivoting as events trigger unexpected areas of need or when data has identified areas of optimization for existing programs.
In the future, when reflecting on the activities of all types of impact organizations in 2020, it will be impossible to understand decision-making and impact through numbers alone. Without the context of the events this year, including the Australian bushfires, COVID-19, the stock market crash in March, the US election, the many instances of social injustice and resulting Black Lives Matter protests, the West Coast wildfires and more events on a global and localized scale, how can future audiences understand the shift in resources or the new found urgency towards new areas of focus?
Major events cause significant stress to the community and can often trigger multi-sectoral collaboration work. Why? The work to provide the necessary services and relief to constituents in need is too great for a single person or organization to solve. We have seen a range of events in recent years, with the pandemic in 2020 and record-breaking natural disasters affecting the West with wildfires and the Southeast with hurricanes.