Seattle Foundation Blog

Unlocking The Power of Data For Nonprofits

What Goldilocks has to do with telling your organization’s story and measuring impact


August 13, 2018

By Ceil Erickson, Director, Nonprofit Relations

For many nonprofits, it can be challenging to evaluate the impact of their programs. Organizations may be constrained by resources or may not have the capacity to conduct a robust analysis. Data can be unreliable or unavailable. Gather too much data, and you may not know what to do with it all. Too little, and you don’t have enough to make your case. In short, you need to learn how to right-size your evaluation to maximize your impact. But how?

Seattle Foundation partnered with the Daniel J. Evans School of Public Policy & Governance at the University of Washington to host a conversation with 35 nonprofits to answer this very question.

Professor Mary Kay Gugerty led an interactive discussion and shared wisdom from the new book, The Goldilocks Challenge: Right-Fit Evidence for the Social Sector, of which she is a co-author. The book’s theme is that, much like trying to make the hard-to-please Goldilocks happy, it can be challenging to collect the right data or right amount or figure out how to measure an organization’s effectiveness.

Despite the hurdles, Gugerty and others said nonprofits should share their stories by focusing on insights that produce positive results. The Goldilocks Challenge lays out a framework for measuring the strategies and impact of nonprofit organizations. Based on the CART principles, The Goldilocks Challenge uses four key elements for measuring impact:

  • Credible data that are high quality and analyzed appropriately;
  • Actionable data will actually influence future decisions;
  • Responsible data create more benefits than costs; and
  • Transportable data build knowledge that can be used in the future and by others.

Simon Rojas, Youth Programs Manager at Open Doors for Multicultural Families, and Jessica Case, Program Officer at Medina Foundation, also offered insight into how they conduct program evaluations at their organizations. Several themes emerged:

  • Funders request a lot of quantitative data, but do they ask themselves how they plan to use the data before requesting it? Will the data inform current investments or a strategy around an emerging issue?
  • While it is often hard to evaluate grants that provide general operating support, nonprofits need to take the opportunity to tell their story and share their progress, growth and learning.
  • Evaluation isn’t easy, but there are many approaches to try. They key is determining the best approach for your organization.
    At the end of the session, nonprofits felt encouraged to embrace a culture that supports evaluating the difference their work is making. This requires first identifying what success looks like and then making a plan to get there, while collecting information along the way to show your nonprofit's progress in getting closer to success. Finally, it's important to communicate what you are discovering, and use those lessons to continuously improve performance.

The online Goldilocks Toolkit includes resources for organizations to apply the Goldilocks principles and develop a culture of measurement and evaluation.

 

 

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