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15 Apr. 2015 | Comments (0)

We’ve been hearing for a while that nonprofits want to be able to better collect and analyze data to improve their performance assessments. Now, there’s data to prove it. The Center for Effective Philanthropy (CEP) has released a new report, entitled Assessing to Achieve High Performance: What Nonprofits are Doing and How Foundations Can Help, which aims to understand more about which nonprofits are assessing performance, how they are approaching this work, and what they are looking for from their funders to support it. Perhaps unsurprisingly, a lot of it comes back to data.

CEP surveyed 183 members of “The Grantee Voice,” the organization’s panel of nonprofit leaders who complete short surveys about topics relevant to their experiences working with funders. Report authors Ellie Buteau, Ramya Gopal, and Jennifer Glickman present four key findings in the report:

  • Almost all nonprofits surveyed report collecting information to assess their performance; still, many nonprofit leaders want to collect additional—or better—data.
  • The typical nonprofit in the study allocates two percent or less of its budget to assessing its performance and few employ staff who are dedicated to this work full time.
  • The nonprofits surveyed are mainly using their performance information to improve their programs and services, inform their strategic direction, and communicate about their progress; to a lesser extent, they are using it to share what they are learning with other organizations or to manage their staff.
  • A minority of nonprofits in the study report receiving support from foundations for their performance assessment efforts.

The details behind the first finding in this list are crucial because they reveal a sophisticated group of nonprofit leaders who could be achieving a lot more in terms of impact measurement if they had access to better data collection and analysis resources. For instance, the report presents anecdotal evidence from an open-ended survey question that asked nonprofit leaders what they’d like to do to better assess and/or improve their performance. Anonymous responses included:

  • “If we could collect disaggregated data on our clients as well as communities that we want to serve, it would help us have a clearer picture of the kinds of issues that they face and what programs to prioritize.”
  • “Access to more data from the [city’s] department of education to help us more fully assess the impact of our programs on children.”
  • A desire “to know more about impact on community and measurability of attitudinal changes among the people in the community. For example, are we creating a more humane community?”
  • “Better metrics of organizational change (for organizations we seek to influence) and public perception.”
  • “We have such an incredible wealth of information—we would love to have a statistician devoted to running ongoing trend analysis, learning more about what we do well and what we don’t.”

This is such a key area for corporate philanthropy because of the in-house data expertise that companies have and the trend for those companies to increase philanthropy budgets through non-cash donations. In several posts (e.g., “Helping Nonprofits Use Data Effectively Is Fundamental to Our Support of Partners” and “Q&A with Lucy Bernholz: Digital Data Are the Most Abundant Asset Most Corporations Have”) and Giving Thoughts Series articles (e.g., “Data Quality to Further Philanthropy’s Mission” and “Data Collection and Analysis in Philanthropy”), we’ve considered how companies could play a role in developing the expertise of their nonprofit partners in this area.

Many of our conclusions are similar to those presented in this report. They involve having deeper conversations with grantees about your shared goals and how you can support each other, as well as sharing information more widely among peers and fellow funders—something that The Conference Board Contributions Councils enable. It’s impossible to develop deep relationships and to share your expertise with all of your grantees, but an effort should be made with those more strategic partners to understand better where their hurdles exist, and what opportunities beyond funding you can provide to help them better measure long-term impact.

  • About the Author:Alex Parkinson

    Alex Parkinson

    Alex Parkinson is Principal of Parky Communications, a communications agency specializing in sustainability and CSR reporting and communications. He serves as the Co-Leader of The Conference Board Cor…

    Full Bio | More from Alex Parkinson


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