(Photo by Albert Hong)
People really don’t like taking surveys.
But for many nonprofits, including Delaware Nature Society (DNS), one of 10 organizations that took part in ImpactED’s inaugural Social Impact Collaborative (SCI), surveys are a necessary part of self-evaluation.
That’s why Dan O’Brien and Kristen Travers of DNS offered pickles to its members who would be willing to take a survey, in order to learn how they felt about the nonprofit’s community-supported agriculture (CSA) program at its Coverdale Farm Preserve.
And “through the power of pickles,” the team got a nearly 100 percent success rate with their surveys, which in turn offered valuable information to help them tailor their educational programming and help their members be more aware of DNS’s mission. For example, the CSA program started cooking classes to teach members what to do with the produce they received and also started an online newsletter called “The Beet” (ha).
This was all covered at a showcase this past Thursday at Seer Interactive’s offices where each nonprofit in the inaugural SCI cohort, funded by the William Penn Foundation, gave lightning-style presentations on what they learned during the past nine months about using data to measure their impact and make better strategic decisions.
“It doesn’t always have to be complicated but it does need to be reflective and proactive,” Travers said about what they learned when evaluating themselves.
Philadelphia Music Alliance for Youth’s (PMAY) mission is to provide a citywide system of music education, but its staffers realized the key ingredient to achieving that mission was investing in music teachers and educators. So the nonprofit collective started to survey this group in an attempt to learn what it could do to best support them.
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One result: PMAY is planning to host an unconference of sorts where music educators can gather to exchange ideas and learn from each other.
Increasing nonprofits’ ability to communicate and reach out to stakeholders about their mission was a key initiative of the SCI cohort, which several of the participants said they found difficult.
For instance, the independent publication Philadelphia Public School Notebook wanted to connect to more parents, with the goals of converting them to readers and members as well as helping them become more effective advocates for public education in Philly.
"It doesn’t always have to be complicated but it does need to be reflective and proactive."
The Notebook’s first-ever survey of its members was administered this past July, and it revealed to the org that many parents and education advocates felt their voices still weren’t being heard in the school district. Its team said that was reinvigorating to hear — that its mission and purpose is a valuable one.
Education Law Center (ELC) was a key player in the recent lawsuit concerning school funding throughout the state, and its team said in their presentation that big successes like these are obvious indicators that the nonprofit’s mission — to ensure quality public education for all students — is needed.
But as Alex Dutton, staff attorney at ELC, said, it can still be a challenge for the org to develop effective ways to measure the impact its policy advocacy work has. One way the team has begun to tackle this issue is by working backward from a “theory of change” model, which involves starting from what ELC hopes to accomplish and then acting according to that goal.
Another org that has seen some more recent successes with its mission was the Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia, but as Deputy Dirctor Megan Rosenbach and Operations Director Diana Owens Steif mentioned, they needed a better way to measure their incremental successes because it can often take them quite a while to find success in their advocacy efforts.
That’s why the idea of creating a “data-informed culture” throughout an organization, as described by ImpactED founder Claire Robertson-Kraft in a recent guest post, was important for the Bicycle Coalition — not only for communicating results, but for future work and impact. So, in addition to making collected data accessible for all members of the staff and making virtual “scorecards” to rate the effectiveness for strategic advisory meetings, the org wants to focus on these three initiatives to promote a culture of data:
- Identify leaders who make sure data analysis is happening on a regular basis
- Keep staff accountable by conducting training as a team and putting data components into weekly staff reviews
- Improve communications to better broadcast its story
— ImpactED (@ImpactEDphl) September 29, 2017
For more on the lessons learned by these nonprofits and others — Philadelphia Parks Alliance, Norris Square Community Alliance, Barnes Foundation, River Network Team and the Delaware River Waterfront Corporation — check out ImpactED’s website for all things data culture, data analysis and Robertson-Kraft’s personal favorite, the “logic model.”