Tag Archives: data analysis
Workforce development for the nonprofit tech professionals of the future: It will be a consortium, not a building with a dome!
It’s been about a year and a half since I starting agitating for a Massachusetts Institute of Nonprofit Technology, an initiative that will kick off by training the nonprofit data analysts of the future.
The concept has morphed and evolved a great deal in that time, thanks to all the great input from Massachusetts stakeholders, but also from a team of ELP fellows from the Center for Collaborative Leadership.
One thing that is quite clear is that there is no need to create a new institution, or raise up a building with a splendid dome. (The Massachusetts Institute of Technology can rest easy, without fear of competition, or brand encroachment.) I believe that all of the necessary institutions exist already here in the Bay State. What is needed is a consortium that can knit them together for this purpose, some funding, and some candidates.
It’s a pipeline, or perhaps a career ladder that the consortium needs to build – not an edifice. Although I love the splendid domes of MIT, we can simply admire them, and hope that eventually some of the people who work and study under those domes will become part of the consortium.
Here’s what I think we need:
- Allies from workforce development, job readiness, and college readiness programs. These are the folks who will raise awareness of the coming need for technology professionals who can provide data analysis and other data services to nonprofits, and guide them to the next rung of the career ladder. Examples include Economic Mobility Pathways (EMPath), Shriver Job Corps, International Institute of New England, JFYnet, Jobs For the Future, National Fund for Workforce Solutions, SkillWorks, Boston PIC, YearUp, and Massachusetts Department of Labor and Workforce Development.
- Allies who provide relevant training and education to candidates who aspire to careers in data services and data analytics for nonprofits. Examples include Bunker Hill Community College and Tech Foundry.
- An organization that is able to place, mentor, and coach candidates in entry level data services positions at local nonprofit organizations. That’s TNB Labs. These entry level workers will be known as “data support analysts,” or DSAs.
- Allies from local nonprofit organizations who are willing to host (and pay for the services of) a DSA for a period of one or two years. TNB Labs will be the official employer of these workers, providing them with a salary, benefits, a modest sum for further professional development, coaching, and mentoring. The DSAs will be working on site at the nonprofit organizations and dedicating themselves to tasks assigned by the nonprofits. Examples of distinguished nonprofits that could play this role are Community Servings, Saint Francis House, Community Catalyst, Health Care For All, Massachusetts Association of Community Development Corporations, Perkins School, City Year, Jewish Family & Children’s Services, Cambridge Health Alliance, Family Service of Greater Boston, Massachusetts League of Community Health Centers, Greater Boston Food Bank, the Boston Foundation, AIDS Action Committee, and the Home for Little Wanderers. (Not that they’ve actually signed on for this, but that they would be great members of this consortium.)
At the conclusion of the one or two year placement at a nonprofit organization, I think that any of the following outcomes would count as a win:
- The host nonprofit hires the DSA (with a raise and a promotion) as a long term regular employee.
- The DSA lands a job providing data services at another nonprofit organization.
- The DSA lands a job in a different field or sector that is congruent with his/her/their career aspirations.
- The DSA is able to apply to a four-year degree program, transferring course credits, on the job experience, two-year degrees, or certifications that he/she/they have earned.
The latter scenario – of advancing in higher education – brings us to the final category of allies needed for our consortium. The best example of this kind of ally is UMass-Boston, which has programs in related areas, such as:
- Information Technology (undergraduate degree)
- Nonprofit Management (graduate degree)
- Human Services (graduate degree)
- Public Administration (graduate degree)
- Program Evaluation (graduate level certificate)
In addition, our consortium has a great ally in an individual UMass-Boston faculty member, Michael Johnson, whose research focus is decision science for community-based organizations. He has expressed a generous desire to be a mentor to community college students in this career ladder, and to encourage those who are qualified to apply to be Ph.D. students in this field.
And that’s just UMass-Boston! I’m not as familiar with the offerings of other distinguished colleges and universities in the area, but the Boston University program in nonprofit management and leadership , the Nonprofit Leadership program at Wheelock, and the Institute for Nonprofit Practice at Tufts come to mind immediately as potential allies.
So here we are. The need is there for data service providers who can serve the missions, programs, and operations of nonprofit organizations. If we can weave all these allies together into a network, we can meet these needs.
All that we require is:
- Allies who are ready, willing, and able to pitch in.
- Public awareness that this career ladder is available.
- Funding to assist candidates cannot afford tuition for college coursework and other forms of training.
- Funding to assist nonprofits that would like to host a data service analyst from this program, but lack the (modest) funding to support one.
Let’s do this!
Now that TNB Labs is up and running, we’re receiving a lot of requests from nonprofit organizations who are perplexed about how to manage the data that they have, before they plunge any further into data analytics or think about acquiring a new data analysis tool. This has given me a lot of opportunities to reflect on how difficult it can be for people whose expertise lies elsewhere to orient themselves to data governance.
Steve Pratt‘s blog article “Drowning in Data?” has been a huge inspiration. In it, he explains the importance of data inventories, and offers to send the Root Cause template to anyone who requests it. I highly recommend that you send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org, and ask for a copy.
At the same time, as I went over Steve’s template, I had a nagging feeling that we needed something even more elementary. Remembering my friend Bob Penna‘s exhortation of a few months before, about asking “who, when, where, what, how, and why,” I quickly drafted a data checklist that focused on those basic questions. When I sent it to Bob, he very quickly returned it with some excellent enhancements; the most brilliant one was to start the checklist with the question “WHY?” As he very sensibly pointed out, if you can’t come up with a good reason why you are collecting, analyzing, reporting, and archiving information, you might as well stop there. In the absence of a persuasive answer to the question “why?” there’s no need to ask “who, when, where, what, and how;” in fact there’s no reason to collect it at all.
With that wisdom in mind, I have tweaked the draft of the data checklist, and herewith present it to you for feedback. This version is the result of a Penna/Finn collaboration:
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.
So now we have launched TNB Labs, and all sorts of queries are starting to come in – not just from folks who needs services, but also from folks who want to be part of our circle of mavens who provide services.
From the beginning, we have thought of TNB Labs as a lean organization, nurturing a community of practice that would provide fractional resources to nonprofits that need data and evaluation services.
What follow here are some personal reflections on mobilizing a community of practice. These are free associations, based on a recent conversation with Susan Labandibar. Please don’t regard these ideas as official TNB Labs policy, but as an invitation to engage in your own free associations.
Let’s talk about a hypothetical scenario.
Let’s say that you are a full time employee of a medium-size nonprofit organization. Your job title is “data analyst.” By temperament and training, you are a data geek, and you are proud of using your powers for good. You are passionate about the importance of your work, because it helps your organization document the ways in which it is making the world a better place, while also identifying ways that it could do even better.
However, there are a few things that aren’t perfect about your job:
1) You’re the only person with any kind information technology training at your organization.
1a) This means that you don’t really have people with whom you can regularly compare notes about the intersection of technology and the nonprofit sector.
1b) It also means that you are asked to do all sorts of tasks that aren’t in your areas of interest or expertise, because you are reputed to “know all about computers.” In vain, you do your best to explain that social media campaigns require a different skill set from data analysis, even though there could be some overlap.
2) You’re interested in new challenges, such as becoming an evaluation specialist. However, you don’t want to quit your job at a nonprofit organization that you love, even though you don’t see opportunities opening up there.
3) You’d like to get some experience with the challenges at other nonprofits, but you don’t really want to moonlight, because that implies doing something underhanded, without the knowledge of your home organization.
How about sunlighting? (Not to be confused with the Sunlight Foundation, which is a great and entirely unrelated organization with a great and entirely different mission.)
Here’s how sunlighting might work for you:
1) You join the TNB Labs Community of Practice, which has regular meetings for peer support and professional development.
2) You work with TNB Labs and your home organization to create a three-cornered agreement, so that a certain percentage of your time is devoted to assignments from TNB Labs to provide services at other nonprofits. (That’s what we mean by “fractional resources.”) It’s all done in an ethical and above-board manner. TNB Labs takes responsibility for finding assignments, invoicing the client organizations, and paying you. It might even represent a cost saving for your home organization; they can hire an entry level person at a lower rate to do some of your routine tasks. It will mean less boredom for you, and valuable on-the-job experience for the entry level person.
3) In accordance with nonprofit client demand and your preferences, your potential TNB Labs assignments will vary. They might involve 2 hours or 200 hours of time for a one time-project, or they might involve an hour or a day every week for three years.
4) TNB Labs’ share will be an administrative fee. This will be an excellent value for the client nonprofit, because they can get a fraction of the time of a first-rate professional (that’s you) without having to add another full time position to their payroll for a set of tasks that doesn’t require a full time person.
If you’re a nonprofit data analyst, would you consider this scenario?
If you’re an executive at a nonprofit organization that needs data analysis or evaluation services, would you consider going to TNB Labs for help from a member of our community of practice?
I invite you to share your thoughts in the comments section!
Greg Palmer and I are very pleased to announce the launch of TNB Labs, a company dedicated to providing nonprofit organizations with high quality data services and program management. TNB Labs works with organizations to audit and assess data management methodology, develop and implement data standards, and provide structural oversight through data governance to organizations of all sizes.
Through our partnership with Tech Networks of Boston, we have had a unique opportunity to listen to hundreds of stakeholders at TNB’s Roundtables uncover a need to elevate the role of data in nonprofit organizations. TNB Labs is focused on improving the capacity of nonprofit organizations at every stage of the outcome management process.
The immediate priorities of TNB Labs are:
1) Providing Master Data Management (MDM) services to nonprofit organizations in support of their missions, focusing on data governance, data quality, data modeling, data visualizations, and program evaluation.
2) Providing workforce program management for Desktop Support Technicians (DST), Data Support Analysts (DSA), and Data Analytics/Data Evaluation entry level professionals.
3) Managing the TNB Roundtable series, which is now jointly owned by Tech Networks of Boston and TNB Labs.
TNB Labs is led by Greg Palmer (chief executive officer), and Deborah Elizabeth Finn (chief strategic officer). The other co-founders are Bob Master (former CEO of Commonwealth Care Alliance) and Susan Labandibar (founder of Tech Networks of Boston).
TNB Labs is here to solve your problems. Please contact us with any questions and comments you have about TNB Labs, or to learn more about data management or program management services that might be helpful to your organization.
Best regards from Deborah and Greg
Deborah Elizabeth Finn
TNB Labs, LLC
PO Box 2073
Framingham, MA 01703
My training, such as it is, is heavily skewed toward qualitative methods; at the same time, I have a lot of respect for quantitative analysis. However, my favorite form of research consists of staring off into space and letting ideas float into my head. Sometimes I validate my findings by engaging in conversations in which I talk louder and louder until everyone agrees that I’m right. It seems to work.
Lately, I’ve had a little time to stare off into space and let ideas float into my head; by this, I mean that I traveled to Austin, Texas for the Nonprofit Technology Conference (also known as #15ntc) and had some down time on the plane. By the time I arrived in Austin, I had become convinced that “Data Analyst” would be this year’s standout job title in the field of nptech. At the conference, I was able to confirm this – by which I mean that I didn’t meet anyone there who talks more loudly than I do.
What are the take-ways? It depends on who you are:
- For data analysts who are now working in the field of nonprofit technology: prepare to be appreciated.
- For data analysts now working in other sectors: think about whether this is a good moment to make a career shift in which you use your geek powers for good. But make sure you know what you’re getting into.
- For nonprofit executives: don’t kid yourselves. Brilliant data analysts who want to work in the nonprofit sector aren’t going to be attracted by job announcements that indicate that the successful candidate will also be responsible for network administration, hands-on tech support, social media, and web development.
- For workforce development professionals: this is your cue. It’s time to put together a program for training computer science graduates to be nonprofit data geeks.
- For donors, grantmakers, and other funders: if you want reports from nonprofits are based on reliable and valid methods of analysis, then you will need to underwrite data analysts at nonprofits. That means money for training, for salaries, and for appropriate technology.
If you don’t agree with my findings, please take a moment to share yours in the comments section.
First of all, I want to say that I distrust the term “data-driven organization,” even though some very highly respected colleagues use it in their writings and their conversations.
I firmly believe that if your organization is driven by data, you’re stopping too soon.
It’s important to roll that data (which is raw material) into information (which has been sorted and analyzed), to roll that information into knowledge (which has been enhanced by understanding of context), and to roll that knowledge into wisdom (which been enhanced by experience and intuition). From there you can proceed to good decisions, and ultimately to mission success; moreover, at this point you of course now have more data. From there, it’s an opportunity for continuous improvement and possibly even further innovation.
My challenge right now is to come up with a clear image to convey this. The one that springs naturally to my mind is linear, but trusted advisors seem to favor a more cyclical illustration.
Please take a look at these two logos (which were created by yours truly), and tell me which one gets my message across most effectively:
And please feel free to post comments here (or send me email) to elaborate on your thoughts about this!
Thanks to the MetroBoston DataCommon, all you need to get started is to sign up for one of their trainings. The DataCommon is a joint project of the Metropolitan Area Planning Council and the Boston Indicators Project; if you’ve been admiring not only the insights but the great graphics that you find on the latter’s web site, then you’ll have no trouble seeing the value of the free training.
An enormous added value of taking the MetroBoston DataCommon training is that they walk you through the process of creating a free Weave account. This means that the version of Weave that you will be using is already loaded with crucial data sets from sources such as the Census Bureau and the Bureau of Labor Statistics. You will be able to analyze, understand, and communicate your organization’s mission and impact, while using hard data about regional conditions to provide a context.
Of course, this opportunity is going to be less helpful to those who are not within an easy traveling distance of the MetroBoston DataCommon headquarters at MAPC. What I would like to see is regional planning agencies and nonprofit associations in other states offer similar resources and trainings.
Some of the news it contains is scary. In our sector, we currently aren’t very successful at collecting and analyzing the most crucial data. For example, only 50% of the respondents reported that their nonprofit organizations are tracking data about the outcomes of clients/constituents.
According to the survey respondents, there are daunting barriers to tracking and using data:
- issues related to collecting and working with data (27 percent of responses).
- lack of expertise (24 percent of responses)
- issues of time and prioritization (22 percent of responses).
- challenges with technology (23 percent).
Page 13 of the report features a chart that I find especially worrisome. It displays of types of data that nonprofit organizations should or could be using, with large chunks falling into three chilling categories:
- we don’t know how to track this
- we don’t have the technology to effectively track this
- we don’t have the time/money to effectively track this
In the case of data about outcomes, 17% lack the knowledge, 20% lack the technology, and 22% lack the time or money (or both) to track it.
Are you scared yet? I confess that I am. Perhaps half of all nonprofits surveyed don’t know – and don’t have the resources to find out – whether there is any causal relationship between what their activities and the social good that they are in business to achieve.
And that’s just programmatic outcomes. The news is also not very encouraging when it comes to capturing data about organizational budgets, constituent participation in programs, and external trends in the issue areas being addressed by nonprofit organizations.
So much for the bad news. The good news is that now we know.
It takes some courage to acknowledge that the baseline is so low. I applaud Idealware and NTEN for creating and publishing this report. Now that we know, we can address the problem and take effective action.