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When Data Metrics and Non-Profits Meet

When data and Nonprofits meet.

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Over the last few years, many nonprofits have jumped on the data train. Some for the first time, either through their own efforts or through the coercion of funders, have begun to evaluate and track their data. Others, evaluate project to project, with no interconnectedness between evaluation systems. Others still, are fighting a losing battle and standing their ground, refusing to collect any data at all.

Welcome to nonprofits and data. Many of us who have worked in the sector have watched (with glee I might add) as non-profits finally started using data to tell their stories over the last few years. Generally, in the form of impact statements, these numbers talk about the total clients served, the social return on investment, or other comparable metrics.

 

 

Summative Vs Formative Data

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Much of the data organizations are using is summative in nature. It talks about what they have done over a time period. It has a discreet beginning and end, and talks about projects AFTER they are finished. It is like  analyzing a sports game, after the game, play by play. Summative assessments are also like tests teachers give in schools. They summarize what you know, and how you did.

In data driven organizations and in assessment culture, a different type of assessment is often used.  Formative assessment tools, such as those that occur in the middle of something, whether it is a unit of study, staff evaluations, project evaluations are a critical strategy that separate those who lead with data, compared to those who simply follow the pack.  What these data focused organizations have learnt, is that data can be used for learning, not just to assess what you have learnt. Let me rephrase. In the sector, we often use data to tell our story to our teams our funders and stakeholders and demonstrate why we are worthy of the dollars granted. One thing few organizations do well, is to use their data to analyze HOW they are doing in the middle of a project, or better yet, when nothing special is going on.

Why would organizations go through the trouble of collecting even more data, particularly data not required by funders?  Think of formative data, like a feedback tool. It can be used by staff and leadership to assess how each is doing. It is a learning tool, essential particularly to innovative organizations to see what works best, when and how. It can be used by leadership to assess big picture items, and by staff to assess and take control of their own performance.

What about the cost of collecting data?

 

 

This is an argument I get from most of my clients. Here is my canned response if you will.

First and foremost, data collection and analysis need not be expensive. Smart organizations can invest in automated tools that make this easier. Second, what is the cost of the mistakes you may be making? If you never measure, you never know. Third, your costs are only high on the front end. Once you adopt a data centric approach, costs in theory, should go down. Finally, time and time again, in my experience, the organizations who have the best data, get more grants and funding. They can tell their story better, they learn faster from their mistakes and develop overall, better programs and services.

How do I get started using data better?

 

 

If you have internal expertise, use it. Talk to individuals who have experience in program design, data design and collection. Join networking groups and communities of practice centered on this. Finally, hire or talk to an expert, internally or externally. Buy them a coffee. Most practitioners will gladly give you some free time.

Most organizations are still not using data as effectively as they can. Those who want to be leaders have discovered the power of data and use it well. Those who don’t risk being left behind in an ever more innovative nonprofit sector.

 

 

Have a question? Send us an email (carmen@reimargroup.com) or Connect with us on social media:

Facebook @Reimargroup

Twitter: @carmenreis

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Disclaimer: ReimarGroup is a consulting firm focused on organizational sustainability, program design and evaluation. We believe good data makes sense and creates more powerful organizations. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

When Your Mission Stinks….

When Your Mission Stinks….

Having worked in consulting to both for profit and non-profit organizations over the last decade, one of the time honoured truths that I often see, is that very often, mission statements stink. While this may seem like a harsh statement, consider the weight and importance we place on mission. Your mission, is the driving force behind all you do. It is how you deliver your product or service and particularly, in the non-profit world, it represents your organizational goals, and your purpose of existence.

 

For young organizations, that are figuring out their way, the mission can and should be flexible. Let’s ponder that for a moment. It is OK if your mission changes?  We are told that Missions must drive organizations. The mission must be the focal point that guides you through. Simultaneously, we are told, fail early, fail forward and fail often.  At a glance, these statements are in opposition to each other.  How, can you have a guiding statement and yet be failing? The easy conclusion to draw, is that after each failure the mission has to be changed. Here’s why.

 

What a Mission is Supposed to Be….

A mission statement, its very definition, is a statement that communicates, what you do, for whom and how you do it. Sometimes, we add where for clarification.  It is from the mission, that we draw HOW we do things, what will make us competitive and our key success factors.  Failure, often arises because there is misalignment or misunderstood assumptions between how the different components need to work together.

 

A simple example is a product that was intended for one purpose, but ended up having another. There are several famous examples. Bubblewrap was intended to be textured wallpaper. Rogaine, the hair replacement solution, originally was designed as a blood pressure medication. In these cases, the need to change the mission is easy to see.

 

The need to change a mission is harder when you are providing services and/or delivering programs.  One example I have seen involved the failure of an organization, originally intended to deliver entrepreneurial services to a very narrow segment of the population.  In this case, there simply weren’t enough people to justify a market, and the mission had to be changed to be more inclusive.

 

Another more common example, are organizations that drift from their mission, as they pursue projects, grants, and other funding.  We often talk about mission drift as a way to refocus the organization, but rarely do we discuss the need that if the organization has drifted so much from its core, is there a need to rewrite the mission to focus on the core activities of the organization?

Bottom-Up Mission

Missions, are most powerful when they are created from the bottom-up. However, this is rarely the case. Missions, tend to be created by Boards of Directors, Executives and Consultants. They are crafted for how they sound, market and branding appeal, and less by direct front-line staff, or program development staff who in reality, know far more about the challenges of delivering services and building programs than executives and boards. If they are not included in the Mission development process, then failure and drift are likely to result.  Consultant’s don’t generally like bottom-up missions as they represent more work to develop. However, better tools such as 360 degree feedback,  stakeholder analysis and customer surveying do change the discourse, but not nearly enough.

Understanding Mission Drift

When mission drift is occurring, we need to question why.  Is it to obtain funding for sustainability, or is it because the program has a genuine need that must be filled. In other words, are you writing the grant because your organization needs money, or are you really trying to solve a problem you see in your everyday work.  If your answer is the latter, and your front-line people consistently are building services and designing programs that stray from your mission, then my advice is that it may be time for a new mission; one that better reflects the real market need of the individuals you serve. And, the bad news? Your mission may stink. If, that’s the case, change it. Change it fast and change it often, until you can figure out what you should be doing and how.  While there are expenses to changing the mission, it can be far more expensive if your mission is just wrong.

 

 

How has your mission been used in your organization? Do you find it effective? Drop us a line carmen@reimargroup.com.