Embracing the transformation to become a Data-Driven organization

In a philanthropic world increasingly driven by outcomes and impact, nonprofits are on the lookout for new ways to become data-driven organizations. A data-driven organization transforms data into information and knowledge in order to inform and shape key business decisions. This organizational capacity increases the ability to succeed in a rapidly changing environment.

Becoming a data-driven organization is a significant cultural and organizational shift. It is not just a simple change, it is a full transformation. The process of transforming an organization is not an easy task – it will take a lot of time and effort and will create a lot of growing pains during the process.

There are multiple reasons why nonprofits must embrace transformation. For Canal Alliance, the most important reasons to transform came from the desire to fulfill our mission, stay competitive with new and current funding, and allocate our resources wisely.

One of the main challenges that non-profits face during the process is the complexity of managing large amounts of data. To address this challenge, Canal Alliance developed a customized database, built in Salesforce, to collect, monitor, and analyze data in real time. Although we have not completed the full process of transformation, we have already been able to see some positive results. Here are some examples:

Using data to increase individual giving
Individual giving plays a crucial role in the sustainability of our organization. We have strengthened our story with data to show who our clients are, where these clients are coming from and their progress towards goals. From 2011 to 2012, individual donations have increased by 31%.

• Using data to educate funders
Our clients are people coming from remote cities in Guatemala, El Salvador and Mexico. Most of them have less than a high school education, limited Spanish literacy and very limited English literacy. The demographic data that we collected has allowed us to educate funders about the challenges facing today’s immigrant population and how our strategies are designed to help overcome them. As a result, we have been able to maintain our extensive portfolio of foundations year to year.

• Using data to improve our programs
We are not just collecting data for reporting or fundraising purposes; we are also using data to strengthen our programs. We designed and implemented a performance measurement system to frequently monitor client progress, enabling us to identify students’ turning points in real time to connect the appropriate service and advocacy to each student. As a result, our Youth Program has increased the number of students graduating from high school and going on to higher education.

Transformation brings multiple benefits, but it is hard to go through, and is easily discouraging. Transformation is not an event with an exact start and stop point; it’s a process which requires patience, persistence, and a strong commitment for improvement.

At the end of the day, the main beneficiaries of transformation are not foundations, employees, partner agencies, individual donors, or volunteers. Those who really benefit from an efficient and effective organization are the clients we serve. Being data-driven helps us to better achieve positive outcomes in their lives.

Canal Alliance is a 30 year old, multi-service organization located in Marin County, which helps low-income, Spanish-speaking immigrants acquire the tools they need to thrive. The organization annually reaches more than 3,000 young people, families and individuals who face multiple challenges. By effectively collaborating with more thank 30 other agencies and 400 volunteers, Canal Alliance delivers education services, improves access to community resources, offers immigration legal services, emergency food, and provides business training and job-seeking support. As a result, vulnerable immigrants, who fled their home countries to escape poverty and/or persecution, gain the tools they need to successfully move from crisis to stability and finally to thriving.

Author: Omar Carrera, Associate Director, Canal Alliance