This is not actually a photo from the dialogue series. We refrained from taking photos, because we wanted to foster an atmosphere of candor and comfort as grantors and grantees engaged in conversation about a difficult topic. However, it is a favorite photo from another recent Tech Networks of Boston event.
Oh, my! It took Tech Networks of Networks almost two years to organize and implement a series of candid dialogues about data and evaluation for grantors and nonprofit grantees, and now it’s complete. The process was a collaboration in itself, with TSNE MissionWorks, and Essential Partners serving as co-hosts. An advisory group and planning group gave crucial input about the strategy and tactics for this event.
What you see here are a few notes that reflect my individual experience. In this article, I am not speaking on behalf of any organization or individual.
June 2017: Let’s get oriented. What is the heart of the matter for grantors and grantees?
September 2017: You know, we really need to address the imbalance of power in the grantor/grantee relationship.
January 2018: Ok, can we agree on some best practices how to address this as grantors and grantees? Why, yes. We can.
The plan is to make the recommendations that came out of the final dialogue publicly available online, to provide a starting point for a regional or even national conversation about data and evaluation.
Meanwhile, I’d like to offer my own recommendations. Mine are based on what I learned during the dialogue series, and also on untold numbers of public and private conversations on the topic.
Understanding that nonprofits perceive funders as having not just money but also much more power.
Asking nonprofits to define their goals, their desired outcomes, and their quantitative measures of success – rather than telling them what these should be.
Factoring in the nonprofit organization’s size, capacity, and budget – making sure that the demand for data and evaluation is commensurate.
Understanding the real cost in dollars to grantees who provide the data reporting and evaluation that you request. These dollar amounts might be for staff time, technology, training, an external consultant, or even for office supplies.
Providing financial support for any data or evaluation that the funder needs – especially if the nonprofit does not have an internal need for that data or evaluation. Items to support might include staff time, technology, training, or retaining an external consultant with the necessary skill set.
Putting an emphasis on listening.
Nonprofits can help by:
Engaging in a quantitative analysis of their operations and capacity, and sharing this information with funders.
Understanding that grant makers are motivated to see nonprofit grant recipients succeed.
Understanding that grant makers are often under pressure from donors and their boards to deliver a portfolio of outcomes.
Integrating the use of data and evaluation into most areas of operation – this means building skills in data and evaluation across the entire organization.
Gathering with other nonprofits that have similar desired outcomes and comparing notes on failures and best practices.
Fostering a data-friendly, continuous learning culture within nonprofit organizations.
Both groups can help by:
Engaging in self-scrutiny about how factors such as race and class affect how data is collected, categorized, analyzed, and reported.
Talking frankly about how power dynamics affect their relationships.
Engaging in ongoing dialogue that is facilitated by a third party who is experienced in creating a safe space.
Talking about and planning the evaluation process well before the grant begins.
Creating clear definitions of key terms pertaining to data and evaluation.
Making “I don’t know” an acceptable response to a question.
Measuring what you really value, rather than simply valuing what you can easily measure.
Working toward useful standards of measurement. Not all programs and outcomes are identical, but very few are entirely sui generis.
Sharing responsibility for building the relationship.
Speaking with each other on a regular basis.
Studying (and implementing) community-based participatory research methods.
And now, because I can insert a contact form here, I’m going to. Please feel free to let me know if you’re interested in being part of a regional or national conversation about how grantors and grantees can move forward and work constructively with data and evaluation.
Two poster boys of nonprofit data sanity: Bob Penna (l) and Steve Pratt (r).
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:
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.
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
Of course, my thinking has become even more grandiose since I originally came up with the idea of a three-day outcomes/data viz training series. Now I’m thinking in terms of a “Massachusetts Institute of Nonprofit Technology,” in which the first initiative would be a degree program in nonprofit data analysis.
Let’s take this training opportunity, which will be brief in comparison to the more elaborate programs that I’ve envisioned, and build on it!
The good folks of Netsuite.Org had a great idea for their exhibit area at the Nonprofit Technology Conference this year. They asked attendees to describe their technology visions in three words. I chose “shared” “data,” and “outcomes.” and an artist quickly drew up a visual to express this. (Unfortunately, I did not note down her name; I hope I can find it in order to give her proper credit for her work.) The photo shown above was taken by Peggy Duvette, and as you can see, I was delighted to see this concept, which is part of Tech Networks of Boston’s strategic thinking, become part of the patchwork quilt of ideas that were being expressed.
The joy of #15NTC is in realizing that although we are just three NTAPs in one region, we are part of a wider movement. In fact, if you were to look at the entire collection of artist’s renderings that were done at the Netsuite.Org exhibit area, you’d see that many nonprofit organizations are on the cusp of dreaming this dream. Most of in the nonprofit sector understand that for lasting positive change in the world, one program at a single nonprofit organization is not enough. The future is in sharing and coordinating our work. What if nonprofit technology assistance providers started with that challenge, rather than the challenge of keeping a network server from crashing? The emphasis would shift from the tactical support of nonprofits to the strategic support of their missions. And by “missions,” I don’t mean vague statements; I mean specific (and even quantifiable) positive changes that nonprofit profits have committed themselves to delivering to their stakeholders.
Because mission achievement is why we all get up in the morning to do our jobs.
And because building a nonprofit technology movement that supports mission achievement is the best possible reason for participating in the Nonprofit Technology Conference.
* I also serve Annkissam directly as a consultant.