Know your Impact – Data at Work in the Nonprofit Sector

In the third part of our series, TW&B client Skills for Chicagoland's Future shares how they use data to drive their day to day decisions. This is a guest post written by Kirsten Powers; Vice President, Development; of Skills for Chicagoland's Future.

A Culture of Data

Skills for Chicagoland’s Future’s mission is to create demand-driven solutions for employers to get the unemployed and underemployed to work. We work to close the workforce skills gap and move the unemployed into open positions by directly responding to the hiring needs of employers. To best advance this mission, a culture of data has been essential to our organization from the beginning. An early iteration of our organization, Chicago Career Tech, operated as more of a traditional train-to-hire program, but data showed that placements from accounts that were more demand (employer) driven had 20-25% higher placements than traditional, classroom-based workforce. This data drove the organization to reorganize, recruit a new board and staff, and emerge as Skills for Chicagoland’s Future in 2012. Since then, data has continued to hold an essential role in the growth and impact of Skills. Over time, the data Skills has collected has helped us focus on:
  • Addressing variables to drive increased numbers of placements
  • Focusing on quality jobs (and what defines those, e.g. pay, hours, opportunities to advance)
  • Diversifying into new industries
  • Understanding factors that affect retention
  • Defining what "job ready" means to different employers
  • How to add value to the workforce system by being uniquely positioned as an intermediary (e.g. feedback to / collaboration with CBO partners)

Tracking retention numbers, placement numbers, and outcome metrics has also led to positive program changes that better further our mission.

How Data has Driven Program Changes

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Challenges of Data

Of course, creating a culture of data within an organization is not without its challenges. For Skills for Chicagoland’s Future, the main challenges included:

  • Collection and management (processes, consistency, IT tools, training/hiring of staff)
  • Turning data into intelligence
  • Focus on outcomes evaluation, not outputs

Of course, creating a culture of data within an organization is not without its challenges. For Skills for Chicagoland’s Future, the main challenges included:

  • Collection and management (processes, consistency, IT tools, training/hiring of staff)
  • Turning data into intelligence
  • Focus on outcomes evaluation, not outputs

The Bottom Line

When it comes to communicating your impact with donors, keep the following in mind.

  • Promote your cause and your case. These are the reasons people give. Emotional connection is the primary drive behind donations.
  • Calculate and know your overhead numbers but remember that they alone don’t make your case. Know how to put them in perspective for your donors.
  • Ask your Board to cover your overhead costs with their donations.
  • Don’t lose your donor’s interest with excessive data unless they ask for it. Performance metrics and impact data are essential to communicate your impact to donors, but too much of it will have them bogged down in the numbers. Keep the story of your mission achievement constituent-centric, incorporating impact data to lend credibility to your work.
  • Let charity evaluators like GuideStar be the “third party” resource for your donors.
  • Most importantly, when using data to drive your nonprofit’s direction, don’t forget to use performance and impact data to tell the human story about mission achievement – keep it constituent-centric.

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