Data Capacity as a Step Toward Nonprofit Sustainability

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Data Capacity as a Step Toward Nonprofit Sustainability

By Mike Pratt, President, Scherman Foundation and Pat Swann, Senior Program Officer, New York Community Trust

Five years ago, Change Capital Fund, a collaborative of 16 bank and foundation funders and the Mayor’s Office for Economic Opportunity, set out to support promising interventions to increase opportunity and economic mobility in the city’s persistently low-income neighborhoods and to help the community development sector to evolve a sustainable business model for the current era of scarce public resources.  

Initially, we hoped that our grantees – among the strongest community development organizations in New York City -  might find new resources to support social innovation in the growing field of social impact investing. However, we soon realized that our grantees, like many nonprofits, were not candidates for social impact investments for many reasons, most notably, because they do not have adequate internal capacity to measure impact in terms of cost savings and other public benefits. Over four years, with considerable funding and technical assistance, grantees increased their capacity to do just that, in the process becoming true learning organizations. 

CCF grantees created tracking systems to enable them to track individuals across funding streams and over time. Typically, our grantees, like most services organizations, report out to funders on multiple databases for siloed programming and funding. This means that front-line staff often enter data for the same person multiple times. Developing their own tracking systems led to increased learning, increased innovation and more time for staff to interact with clients, rather than conduct redundant data entry.  

For example, Fifth Avenue Committee built a Salesforce data-hub to collaborate with their three partners working to increase employment in public housing. Through data analysis, they learned that program recruits were not getting into their partner BWI’s excellent sectoral job training programs because their TABE math scores were just shy of the threshold score. By creating a remedial program, at a cost of less than $200 per person, far more participants are accessing this step to a career.

CCF enabled the grantees to develop public benefit rationales that enable them to measure impact as well as outcomes. The public benefit rationales compare grantee outcomes to the outcomes for similar demographic cohorts to meaningfully ascertain the changes caused by their program. Interpreting outcomes contextually enables grantees and funders to know what is working.   

For example, after one year of St. Nicks afterschool literacy immersion pilot program; 31% of their participating third graders were reading at grade level, a vital milestone on the way to high school graduation and life success. We wouldn’t understand that as the impressive result that it is, without comparing it to the 7% of participating students who were reading at grade level at the start of the school year.

Similarly, Cypress Hills LDC and New Settlement Apartment’s College Success programs assist thousands of high school seniors to graduate and enroll and stay in college.  But the number of outcomes is much more meaningful when we compare their participants’ results with their peers, it shows that program participants are exceeding their high schools’ graduation rates as well as CUNY, SUNY and National levels of college persistence for all students, regardless of income.

We have seen that data analysis has led to program innovation because of grantees’ increased ability to make their data “actionable”.  It has also strengthened their competitiveness: by the end of the third year of our program, grantees raised over $12 million in new funding, 70% from government sources.  

Philanthropy New York members interested in learning more about the why and how of increasing performance management capacity are welcome to join CCF’s forum:


How Investing in Community Based Organizations' Data and Analysis Accelerates Pathways Out of Poverty

Keynote by Deputy Mayor Herminia Palacio

  • Using Public Data as an Evaluation Tool
  • What’s Working? How do We Know? An Analysis of Select Strategies and Related Public Benefit Rationales
  • How to best leverage NYC’s cbos to reduce poverty.     

​​​​​​​Breakfast will be served.  ​​​​​​​​​​​​​​

Date: Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Time: 8:30AM to 12:30PM

Place: New York Law School

185 West Broadway

New York, NY 10013

RSVP Here:

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