Data-Driven Outcomes Move Non-Profits to the Head of the Class

Aug 28, 2019 9:05 AM ET

Non-profits know that producing outcomes is key to securing meaningful partner support and funding.  Even when the non-profit gets results, many struggle to provide a clear picture of the positive impact they create. 

Limited data expertise, staff resources and inadequate data management tools are primary challenges to valid and clear outcomes reporting.  Another more vexing challenge is the fact that most non-profit professionals, along with their boards, partners and funders, are not trained in interpreting program data.

Texas-based CNM (The Center for Nonprofit Management) saw an opportunity to completely change that dynamic. For nearly four decades, the nonprofit consulting firm has helped other non-profits run their businesses better. They launched CNM-pactÒ in 2016 to help nonprofits track, analyze, evaluate and report program outcomes. What began as a successful pilot of eight nonprofits has grown to nearly 60 organizations including Rivertree Academy, a private Christian elementary school that serves under-resourced students in the Como neighborhood of Fort Worth. Prior to their partnership with CNM, the school’s ability to show positive impact was limited to taking academic assessment data and trying to manually present it in a clear and useable format for its constituents. 

Rivertree Academy’s journey to data-driven program strategy and outcomes reporting began with sage advice from a key funding partner, The Miles Foundation, which introduced the school to the Outcomes-Based Program Evaluation Institute (OBPEI). Conducted by CNM and sponsored by The Miles Foundation and The Morris Foundation, OBPEI provides organizations with the knowledge and skills to evaluate program efficiency and effectiveness.

“We formed the Outcomes Institute in partnership with various foundations to mentor, train, and support a cohort of nonprofits in developing measurement evaluation methods and tools,” said CNM President and CEO Tina Weinfurther. “We also provide one-on-one coaching on how to work with data so our non-profit clients can raise their proficiency and self-sufficiency.”

Working with CNM data experts, Rivertree Academy is able to streamline analyses of two key assessment standards: student proficiency and grade equivalency. Instead of simply looking at an assortment of different numbers for each student and averaging them manually, the data is organized into tables and graphs using CNM-pact. The portal generates simple data visualization in multiple formats, such as bar or pie graphs, and also allows the user to drill down to specific assessment figures from the chart. Visuals and data can be easily integrated into written reports and presentations. Their data dashboard also allows Rivertree Academy to toggle between years, subjects, and grade levels.

“Our enhanced ability to read and report student outcomes helps us deliver reporting in the format that best suits our funders’ requirements,” says Rivertree Academy’s Development Director Michelle Norris. “Being able to see the data insights and make appropriate course corrections has also helped the school gain credibility with partners and funders by showing transparency and specificity in our efforts to improve.”

CNM recognizes the benefit to both non-profits and funders in using data analysis and reporting to drive continuous improvement and positive outcomes. The firm has launched CNM Certified to aid fundraising efforts for both nonprofits and funders. Clients proficient with data can become “CNM Certified,”  a virtual stamp of approval that validates the methodology used to collect, analyze and report on data. “Foundations and corporations continually say they can't tell one non-profit from the other, and they want to know where to invest,” says Weinfurther. “Our CNM Certified program is shining a light on the non-profits like Rivertree Academy that are truly committed to the mission and getting great results - all based on valid process and procedures.”

That perspective is shared by companies like Alliance Data, which invested in CNM-pact as part of the company’s Data for Good initiative to help non-profits build capacity leveraging data-driven insights.  “It’s inspiring to see non-profits like Rivertree Academy realize tangible results from using CNM-pact,” says Shelley Whiddon, Vice President of Public Affairs for Alliance Data. “Strategic and disciplined data measurement is something that corporate funders increasingly expect from non-profits and need for making our community investment decisions; being CNM Certified is an effective way to ensure a non-profit can meet those donors’ expectations.”

Producing outcomes based on valid data collection and analysis procedures, making data-driven decisions, and reporting results in a meaningful and easy to understand way, can be complex and time consuming. But non-profits don’t have to navigate those waters alone. With CNM-pact evaluation experts and outcomes technology, non-profits can prove the value of their programs and secure resources to grow their good works. As nonprofits are able to show outcomes, funding will be smarter and that transparency of what’s working and not working will lead to stronger communities.

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