Practical Plans for Strengthening Nonprofits: The Human Services Data Project

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Philanthropy New York’s Philanthropy Connects Committee recently sponsored a program featuring Linda Gibbs, New York City’s Deputy Mayor for Health and Human Services, which explored six initiatives now being designed to strengthen the City’s nonprofit sector. One of these projects would incorporate a data vault that would hold common organizational documents required in City contracts and many private grant applications (such as IRS tax-exempt certifications, insurance forms, etc.). We are pleased to have Matthew Klein, Executive Director of the Blue Ridge Foundation New York, describe this and other aspects of this promising effort in greater detail for Smart Assets.

On March 4, 2010, Deputy Mayor Gibbs and I had the chance to share with funders an overview of the NYC Human Services Data Project (HSData), a cross-sector initiative to improve services for children and families by enabling New York City’s nonprofit organizations to more easily and effectively manage data, benchmark performance, and share information with stakeholders and funding sources.

HSData emerged out of a Task Force convened by Deputy Mayor Gibbs to consider ways to strengthen the nonprofit sector, and seeks to respond to a number of well-known management and reporting challenges faced by service providers:

  • Different funding streams mandate overlapping or divergent reporting requirements, creating expensive administrative burdens;
  • Methodologies for cost services and tracking finances vary, undermining agencies’ ability to compare and enhance their fiscal practices;
  • Service terms lack standard definitions (e.g., a “job placement” might mean different things to different agencies), making it difficult for practitioners and funders to make relative comparisons across organizations and learn from best practices;
  • Government silos lead providers to segment their services, resulting in less-holistic strategies for families with multiple needs.

To address these challenges, HSData has three main goals:

  1. Create an electronic document repository, a.k.a. the “Vault.” Instead of repeatedly submitting the same organizational materials with each separate funding request, an agency will be able to store its key documents online in the Vault, accessible to any of their public and private funders.
  2. Facilitate financial analysis. Building on existing tools, HSData is developing a methodology to help nonprofits assess their own organizational health and understand the true costs of running individual programs.
  3. Establish an outcome taxonomy. HSData aims to standardize definitions of key outcomes in human service subsectors in order to reduce the confusion that results when various nonprofit providers and funding entities use the same words, but mean different things.

Each of these goals is ambitious, and achieving them requires extensive input from funders and nonprofit providers. Please get in touch if you are interested in sharing your thoughts and ideas!

To learn more or to get involved, visit

Matthew Klein, the Executive Director of Blue Ridge Foundation New York, is also an adjunct professor at NYU’s Stern School of Business, where he teaches courses on venture philanthropy and the nonprofit capital market. Mr. Klein’s experience prior to Blue Ridge includes work in nonprofit management and civil rights law. He helped co-found Leadership, Education, and Athletics in Partnership (LEAP), a Connecticut-based youth development agency; performed legal work with the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc., and the Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Department of Justice; and served as a law clerk in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York for the Honorable Robert L. Carter, one of the principal litigating attorneys in the landmark Brown v. Board of Education lawsuit. Mr. Klein currently serves on several boards, including Groundwork, Inc. (founding Chair), iMentor (founding member), Single Stop USA (founding President), The Yale Law School Executive Committee, and Campaign for Community Change. He has been a fellow of Echoing Green and the Next Generation Leadership program of the Rockefeller Foundation, and he is a member of the bar in New York and Massachusetts. Mr. Klein attended the Boston Public Schools, Yale College, and Yale Law School.

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