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Getting Smarter About Impact

By June 27, 2018

By: Susan Tobes, Vice President, Business Development, Exponent Partners

Expedition Impact Chicago - Nonprofit Cloud customers and nonprofit organizations discussed impact measurement and more.

Earlier this month, nonprofits gathered in Chicago at Expedition Impact at the beautiful Chicago History Museum, the oldest museum in Chicago that shares the stories of the city. This was an ideal setting to bring together a group of nonprofits to collaborate and share what’s working for nonprofits to advance their missions through technology and more.

After chatting with attendees and listening to speakers, it was clear that we all do different work and we do this work in order to achieve social impact. We want to know that our contribution had a positive change on the individuals and the organizations that make up our society. This is truly what makes us tick.

And while we pursue this positive change, we are aware of important trends that are shaping the way we need to work. Funders and constituents are demanding more information about results. There is a pressing need to build information systems, organizational capacity, and data-use skills to achieve those results. Expedition Impact is aptly named; it is truly an expedition!

Chicago History Museum

The Expedition Impact program included a great cross-section of changemakers working at the intersection of technology and social change, including:

  • moderators and facilitators who are leaders in community impact, product management, and marketing;
  • Thought leaders in nonprofit and philanthropy technology and outcomes management.

And, Expedition Impact offered a view into several impact stories by Nonprofit Cloud customers. Included on the panel were The Spark Program, Cara Chicago, Cradles to Crayons and Service, Inc. These nonprofits do the hard work of making a difference in the lives of the most vulnerable and disenfranchised members of our society. As always, I am energized and excited by the work of social services organizations.

  • Some common themes and challenges emerged from the stories that these nonprofit leaders shared with the audience.
  • Many nonprofits have system environments built for tracking data and reporting to funders, but not for managing to social impact.
  • Home-grown legacy databases are no longer supported or enhanced, or they are dealing with commercial products that have reached the end of their commercial life.
  • Disconnected systems impede collaboration and make it difficult to get to a single source of truth.
  • Multiple mandated systems by different funders cause duplicate data entry, increase associated staff costs, and lead to problems with data quality and consistency.
  • Data governance is a growing challenge and concern for all.
  • Real-time access to data is essential.

After reflecting on these themes and challenges, it was clear that attendees want to get smarter about impact. I left the event with several important takeaways:

    1. Be clear on the ‘Why?’ – It is always important to understand why we do what we do. When we can ‘get out on the balcony’ and truly speak to the purpose of our work, we can inspire others to do great things.

    2. Have a design for impact – Demonstrating social results requires a strong framework. Different types of frameworks operate at different levels, from a program logic model to an organizational theory of change. Ultimately, you need a clear data map to impart structure and traceability to the data you collect and then use to demonstrate success.

    3. Invest in technology – An investment in technology as well as technology capacity will help your organization make a big leap forward. The right solution will offer efficiency gains that allow you to focus on your nonprofit’s mission.

    4. Create evidence of impact – Demonstrating impact requires evidence. Evidence generated through randomized control trials (RCTs) is the gold standard for evidence, but are also very expensive and time-consuming. The best program-information systems help generate other forms of evidence through experiments and other means, allowing us to track, report, and analyze results.

    5. Insist on flexibility – Change is the only constant, and your information systems have to be able to adapt as funder requirements change, and programs start and end and evolve.

At Exponent Partners, we help our clients visualize the journey through a stair-step model shown below. Each step represents a new, higher level of capability and maturity for an organization, and must build on the step beneath it.

The journey that nonprofits take, going from data tracking/collection to performance management, and eventually, to outcomes

  • Data Tracking / Collection. Implementing Salesforce and Exponent Case Management (watch demo) for human services program management provides the best-in-class foundation for collecting and tracking program data and driving tremendous efficiencies. With ECM you get a great user experience, best practice data organization, a single source of truth, real-time tracking and reporting provide the solid foundation for demonstrable impact.
  • Performance Management. Once you have clear structured data, organizations set goals and targets, and then benchmark themselves against their peers. Reports and dashboards are created to measure and actively manage performance. This step, including the development of technology and capacity, lets your organization achieve continuous improvement.
  • Outcomes Management. Outcomes management is performance management for social results! This third step again requires all the skills and systems of the prior steps, and adds the structure and definition of a framework such as a program logic model, a theory of change, or an outcomes framework. In this step, the organization also builds the systems and skills for visualization and analysis of program data.

Seventy-five percent of nonprofits gather data and only six percent feel they are using it effectively,” a statistic from the recent Stanford Social Innovation Review. These numbers, combined with the conversations I had with Expedition Impact attendees, reinforce my belief that by using modern technology and working together, we can make progress towards gathering data and begin to use it to inform our work and understand our impact.

Now is the time to get smarter about impact. Onward and upward!

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About the Author
Susan TobesSusan Tobes, Vice President, Business Development, leads revenue growth for Exponent Partners. She is responsible for all sales, marketing and partner relationships as well as customer success. She has been working in the ecosystem for over 10 years and over 30 in technology. Susan considers herself a change agent and passionate customer advocate. She has a professional interest in the changing landscape of technology for nonprofits and making a social impact. A 2nd generation native of California, she currently lives in the San Francisco East Bay with her husband. In her spare time she enjoys a never-ending list of home improvement projects and is a frequent host to her friends and family. She enjoys cooking, gardening, camping, entertaining and traveling.

Impact PartnerExponent Partners is a Impact Partner that helps nonprofits succeed with Nonprofit Cloud.