Nonprofits and Data: Looking for Inspiration | npENGAGE

Nonprofits and Data: Looking for Inspiration

By on Feb 28, 2013


Is it just me, or is everything coming up data in 2013? From the huge turnout for the “Nonprofits, Data, and Transparency” event in Seattle to Beth Kanter’s recent blog post about the importance of being data informed (and why that’s different from being “data driven”) to the SSIR coverage of philanthropists who “fail well,” it’s encouraging to see so many nonprofits, foundations, and thought leaders grappling with measurement, metrics, and transparency.

Still, most nonprofits have a long way to go. In 2012, in partnership with Idealware, we produced the State of Nonprofit Data report, which revealed a large dichotomy: nonprofits were either doing a lot with their data, or not much at all.

So this year, hoping to strengthen organizations all along that spectrum, we (NTEN) launched a pilot program called Communities of Impact, which brings together 19 nonprofit professionals—from IT Directors at huge international organizations to outreach and marketing practitioners from small, grassroots ones—to focus on the ways that their own organizations can best measure, learn from, and share their data. And the agenda for our upcoming 2013 Nonprofit Technology Conference (#13ntc) includes no less than 25 sessions with “data” in the title or description!

But it’s one thing to talk high level and another to see specific, concrete examples of nonprofits who are “walking the walk.”

We don’t see enough of these stories in the news, and those of us who keep up with nonprofit technology blogs and publications often see the same couple of industry leaders in the spotlight. We need and appreciate these trailblazers, but believe there have to be more – and that the more we uncover the stories of everyday professionals doing the hard work of moving their organization from “data scared” to “data savvy” (or from data savvy to data superstars), the more likely it is that the folks out there reading will find their own next steps.

Here are some places to look if you need inspiration

Data Analysts for Social Good: This space for people who like data and work in the social sector is spearheaded by one of our Chicago-based Communities of Impact participants, Andrew Means, and brings together social sector analysts for training, networking, and education.

Data Commons: This group is made up of 10 cooperative development centers who are creating open source tools to effectively use shared information, including common directories, maps, and databases as well as membership engagement platforms, marketplaces, and tools to embed shared information around the internet.

DataKind: Formerly known as Data Without Borders, DataKind brings together leading data scientists with high impact social organizations through a comprehensive, collaborative approach that leads to shared insights, greater understanding, and positive action through data in the service of humanity. And their “sites we like” blogroll is a gold mine, too.

Markets for Good blog: Markets for Good is an initiative to discover how the social sector can better use and share information to improve outcomes and change lives.

NetSquared’s blog: NetSquared’s vision is to make it easy, meaningful, and fun for people and organizations to get the information, visibility, and support they need to accelerate the impact of social benefit projects. Keisha Taylor compiles a weekly Data Digest, so if you need a cheat sheet about the latest news, subscribe via RSS.

NTEN Case Studies: A series of case studies—including one about ourselves—that highlight nonprofits’ efforts to identify outcomes, define indicators, and gather and report data to track effectiveness in their communities.

Has your organization taken small or giant steps toward creating a data-informed culture? We’re eagerly compiling as many examples and resources as possible, so please share your experiences in the comments.

amyBy Amy Sample Ward, Membership Director for the Nonprofit Technology Network. Connect with Amy on Twitter.





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