Data Driven Leadership
Leveraging Data to Maximize Nonprofits' Impact
Guests: Amy Pipher, Senior Consultant, Resultant | Michael Schmierer, Senior Consultant, Resultant
In this episode, Jess talks with seasoned consultants Amy Pipher and Michael Schmierer about the critical role data plays in driving impact and ensuring long-term sustainability for nonprofits. Together, Amy and Michael shed light on the importance of truly understanding the mission and values of an organization. By aligning data analysis with these fundamental principles, nonprofits can identify gaps and business problems that hinder their progress.
"Use data on the front end to make decisions on what you want to go do...use it on the back end for that program efficacy as well...it should be a day-to-day thing for nonprofits to be looking at and leveraging their data.” - Michael Schmierer
Together, Amy and Michael shed light on the importance of truly understanding the mission and values of an organization. By aligning data analysis with these fundamental principles, nonprofits can identify gaps and business problems that hinder their progress.
In this episode, you will learn:
In this podcast:
Amy is a Senior Consultant on the Digital Consulting team and supports our nonprofit clients leverage data and technology to improve their business operations and the services they provide to the community. She is currently a business solution owner across many nonprofit accounts, including United Way of Central Indiana, AARP Foundation, and Central Indiana Corporate Partnership. She enjoys being active in the community, including the American Legion Auxiliary and the Rotary Club of Downtown Indianapolis. Amy’s background is in nonprofit administration and community development. She has a Bachelor of Arts from Agnes Scott College in History and International Relations and a Master of Arts from American University in International Peace and Conflict Resolution.
Michael leads Resultant's Workforce Practice that focuses on digital transformation and data solutions for public sector and non-profit workforce entities. He has a background in workforce as an economic development driver and the need to invest in talent to drive economic growth and economic mobility. He has worked on workforce related projects for the Indiana Chamber of Commerce, Indiana Department of Workforce Development, Vermont Department of Labor, and the Oregon Employment Department. He holds a Bachelors in Arts from Purdue University in Political Science and History and is currently enrolled in the University of Colorado - Boulder's Masters of Science in Organizational Leadership.
Jess Carter: The power of data is undeniable and unharnessed, it's nothing but chaos.
Speaker 2: The amount of data, it was crazy.
Speaker 3: Can I trust it?
Speaker 4: You will waste money.
Speaker 5: Altogether with duct tape.
Speaker 6: Doomed to failure.
Jess Carter: This season, we're solving problems in real time to reveal the art of the possible, making data your ally, using it to lead with confidence and clarity, helping communities and people thrive. This is Data Driven Leadership, a show by Resultant.
So I just got off the phone with Michael Schmierer and Amy Pipher, and I really loved that conversation. So I think if you find yourself in a non-profit, usually you're not in a position to be day one employee number one, where you're trying to figure out what systems do you need. Usually you're inheriting whatever systems somebody else decided were important for your donor database or for your fundraising system or for your program management system. So I would just like to say a couple things from a technology data side. Understanding what data you have available to you and getting really comfortable with those systems and all of the data inside of them so you can harness it as much as you possibly can will help you understand if those systems are continuing to meet your needs or if at some point you're going to scale beyond what they can help you with. So that's one.
The second thing is going back and understanding your mission, vision, and values and how those systems answer all of the questions that a board member, a fundraiser, a donor might ask about your programs and your nonprofit is going to be really important too because that'll help point out gaps. So look at your systems and your data, look at your mission, vision, and values, and understand if there are any gaps in your curiosity, what's working, what's not, can you tell, generally speaking, the events that you're hosting, or the number of people that you're impacting, or the number of houses that you're procuring for affordable housing. Look at your supply and your demand and understand, and again, non-profit terms, what's your mission, who are you trying to help, and your funds to do it, or your donor base. And understand like, what are some of your business problems? Are you experiencing an aging donor base where you're not really getting the passion of your mission vision values to a younger donor base? Or maybe you have donors that are decreasing in the amount that they're giving you every year. Or maybe your program is struggling and you're not sure what's not working, but you've got less and less people registering for it, or you're not sure that you have any way to measure outcomes about your program.
Some of this is where you can just step back to a 10, 000 foot view, look at the data at your disposal today, write down the kind of data that you really wish you had that you could use to better drive your nonprofit. And then over time, some of that list, that wish list of data that you wish you had is going to bubble to the top versus sink on a priority list. And there will be opportunities for you to go gather that data or run a pilot that allows you to capture some of that data on a pilot program. And you can kind of test it, see if that's valuable to you or not. So there's still a lot of ways to play and it's really fun and mission oriented to do that nonprofit work.
I loved listening to Amy talk about outputs versus outcomes. I loved listening to Michael Schmierer emphasize having both short and long-term objectives so that you can measure your program, not just with this lagging indicator and 10 years to see what happened. So you can make adjustments to your program as you kind of observe those metrics. I think they really did a good job emphasizing some of the complications around nonprofit management, nonprofit leadership operations, donor management, board management, and how to make sure your programs are actually generating the outcomes you really, really wanted in the first place. So I really hope you guys enjoy listening to this one.
Welcome back to Data Driven Leadership. I'm your host, Jess Carter. On today's episode, we're diving into data in the nonprofit world. Specifically, we're looking at how to use your data in the most meaningful ways. To help me solution on the spot are two of Resultant's finest senior consultants, Amy Pipher and Michael Schmierer. Welcome Amy and Michael.
Michael: Thank you for having us, Jess.
Amy: Hey Jess, thanks for having us.
Jess: So why don't we start with your backgrounds around like why nonprofit management? What's your passion? Where's it come from? What's your experience? So Amy, do you want to take a start?
Amy: Yeah, for me, being in the nonprofit space was very much a family thing and something we were always engaged in growing up. So I always had my parents were on nonprofit boards were volunteering, it was something very important to them. So I was on my first nonprofit board when I was in high school. And I just didn't really know any other way around it. So as I went through my career and tried to figure out that trajectory of, what am I gonna do when I grow up? How am I gonna pay my bills? I always seem to keep falling into the nonprofit space, whether that was in higher education or in museum management there for a while. And then eventually I found my path in community development through international peace building. That is the field I was in before I joined the result team in 2019, working for a global nonprofit that helps support other nonprofits. And that's really where I fell into my passion there of how can I make sure the people who are serving the community are the most prepared to serve that community, and how to really capitalize on that and maximize on that? So it's always been a part of my identity and something that's really passion driven for me.
Jess: Very cool. What about you, Michael?
Michael: It's similar to Amy. I think anyone that has worked or been on a board for a nonprofit, there's a part of you that's mission oriented. To work at a nonprofit is to be mission oriented and to know that your work is serving a greater community, whether that's in international peacemaking, like Amy has experienced, whether that's in the workforce space or the economic development space. It's all about the greater good and the community that you're working for. So that's my passion. I've always been a mission-driven person. I spent a couple of years in the public sector, handful more years in the nonprofit space, and then found my way, obviously, to Resultant, where we're a very mission-driven organization as well. So for me, it's all about that, bringing people together that have a need and solving some of our biggest community issues being solved by nonprofits.
Jess: That's awesome. My background also came from nonprofits. So I was in nonprofits up until one jump before I landed at Resultant and global nonprofits similar to Amy. It was an interesting world. So the ones I was in were like highly academic. It was also interesting, as they say, follow the money. And so when you understand who your donors are, you really understand what makes your nonprofit tick, right? Like there's some themes there that are just a little different than the public sector or private sector.
So some of the observations that just feel worlds apart from where I am today, though you're right, the mission driven is dead on, right? It tends to attract talent that's really mission driven. And one of mine was like, you think about some of these nonprofits that are trying to feed the hungry or supply clean drinking water. And I remember thinking, this is so cool. Like our jobs are to not have jobs. We wanna work our way out of employment because we've fully solved the problem. And so I found that strategy for a business really interesting, that the strategy is to no longer be needed because you've actually been successful. But it also had some other themes, right? So in consulting, I feel like I always hear, there's been men on the moon, like the world's your oyster, solve a problem as creatively as you can. I found in my experience that there was some serious constraints around what people thought they could do and with what resources.
So it was always a little bit difficult to get creative juices flowing because there's always limited budget. Like how much can we afford something, right? Have you guys experienced that too?
Amy: There's limited budget and oftentimes you have to respond to where the money is leading you and where the funders want you to go. So a lot of times they come to you with an RFP and they say, we want you to solve this problem in this way. Sometimes you have a little bit of leeway and saying, okay, the world is our oyster. But a lot of times you have to say, if we want to get this money, we have to respond the way they want us to respond. And it's not always the way you would design that work to begin with, for sure.
Michael: I agree with Amy. I think that's one of the big challenges as well. And sometimes it's when you're working on limited budgets, it's really hard to turn down a funding opportunity. But I think one of the mistakes that nonprofits can fall into is trying to boil the ocean and do the things that maybe are outside their expertise or their capacity. And so I think making sure you're choosing the right funding opportunities and maybe picking, let's call it, one to three things to do really well, is really important for nonprofits.
I think you can get outside and respond to that RFP opportunity. And if you don't have the strategic plan behind you or whatever to say, yeah, thanks for that opportunity, but it doesn't really fit. You might not make the desired impact you want to be making in your community.
Amy: Yeah. Going off of that, I also think it's really hard in those situations to go in with the idea that you might fail. You might just not succeed in doing what you want to do and making the impact you want to make. And if you do that, you're not going to continue as an organization, you're not going to make money to be able to feed back into that mission. And so you're stuck in this, we're going to keep doing what we've always done, because it's always worked, then you don't get that innovation, you don't get that drive forward, and oftentimes you get stuck. Yeah.
Jess: The other thing that I've not seen as much as I wish I saw, you know, so we talk about maybe getting to the point where we can close our doors and we've accomplished our mission, And it's like, guys, there's so many problems that are relatable. So if you just solve clean drinking water over here, maybe you can solve some logistical issues in this other country. Because to do that is to understand the pipes and some of the natural resources. You can take those exact same similar solutions that you just provided and apply them somewhere else. So you're not out of a job. It's actually kind of like a startup.
Like you've actually just proven yourselves and you get to go do your next, you know, venture capital raise, right? Like it should be exciting.
Amy: It makes me think of for any West Wing fans out there, there's an episode where someone offers CJ Craig all the money in the world to fix issues in Africa. What would you do? And her answer was, I would improve the roads. Like there are these systems that work within themselves and communities. And just because you solve one issue doesn't mean there are others coming out of it. And you have to look at the way they connect together.
Michael: Yeah, 100%. And when you look at like, the space that I work in every day with economic development and workforce development, when any workforce conversation is brought up, it's not just about the training and the credentials and the college degrees, right? Well, once the person has the training, how do they get to the job, right? It's the public transportation or the roads and highways. It's the housing. So all these factors come into play when you might just be thinking about one very narrow issue.
Jess: Yeah, for sure. So I have a job to do and I have to put you guys on the spot. So I'm going to kind of give you a scenario and I want you to kind of work with me on how we would solution or advise a nonprofit client, okay?
So let's say a client has come to use Michael's phrases. They've got their one to three things they do. They know everything else they don't do. And let's say it's providing stable housing in inner cities, okay? Just for sake of argument. So that's what they're trying to do. They're not trying to solve housing problems for suburban people. They're not trying to open up new rural communities. It's urban cities. They just got this opportunity to reply to a huge grant. And so it'd be incredible. And it's not earmarked. So we didn't really unpack that earlier. But when we have earmarked funding for nonprofits, that can be good and bad. And we should get into that in a second. So there's a lot of flexibility with the funds. But some of what they want to do with the grant isn't perfectly aligned to their one to three things. Say that's near suburban housing instead of directly urban housing. It could significantly impact the direction of the nonprofit with this kind of funding. Where do we begin? How do we solution on the spot with this client? How do we help them think through this scenario? Do they go after the money? Do they not? And why?
Amy: For me, I would always say the first step is go back to mission, vision, values. And what is your organization's theory of change? And for me, I always think of it as if we do this, then this will happen because of our underlying assumptions. So go back to if we do this RFP, if we serve the community in the way that we're thinking we're going to through however we're responding to this, is that going to achieve what our overarching goal and mission is? If it doesn't go back to feed that, then it's not where the time, effort, and money should be invested in.
Michael: Yeah, I would point to a strategic plan. I'd point to almost all nonprofits have a board that are made up of community members that are passionate about the same issues, but also have expertise in different areas. So leveraging your board to help make some of these decisions.
Jess: So some of the things I've seen that I think can be pretty neat too, is when you see those opportunities like these RFPs or grant opportunities as a chance to actually build a relationship with the grantor too. So some of this is like, why are they passionate about that over there? And is the why behind our strategy and the why behind the grantor actually aligned, but the what isn't? So we want affordable housing in inner city, but there's actually no affordable housing over here either. So we're actually all trying to solve for affordable housing. And so are there ways that we could leverage pieces of the grant? Are there ways that we can respond to a part of it? But we actually build this really strong, healthy response and develop a really good relationship with a grantor to show the maturity of like, we're not just trying to check every box to get your money. We're trying to make sure that we are aligned to Amy's point. We're trying to make sure we understand what the strategy is, to Michael's point. But we're open to, is there a way that we can partner here? Or is there a way in the future that we could better partner? So then you're building that relationship with a grantor, you're exploring the opportunity, but there's some eyes open to some future possibilities that we could have if this isn't a good fit.
Michael: Yeah, well, I think of a couple things as well. There's probably not just one nonprofit organization doing the same thing, right? Especially if we're thinking about an urban area. So are there ways that you could partner with another nonprofit that's similar to you to help deliver maybe on portions of it that you don't have the capacity or the expertise or it doesn't align with your mission and vision. So I think that's an opportunity as well. And I think when you're thinking about building a long-term relationship with grant funders, it comes to proving your outcomes, right? Like, how do you demonstrate that the work that you did in the past or within this last year has really moved the needle on the thing that they really care about. And anecdotal stories are great. We need those for social media, we need those for our websites, we need those to tug on the heartstrings, But we also need data to prove that what we're doing is working. And that's how I think you build a long-term relationship with a funder, is backing up your anecdotal stories with the data that proves you're actually impacting humans and you're making a difference in your community.
Jess: Okay, we have to unpack that. So I'm not going to let you stop talking. That is the million dollar question. How do you do that? What is anecdotal versus really data driven? Help me understand what do you mean by those two things? How do you jump into the pool of the latter?
Michael: Sure. So whenever you're getting grant funding, you have to meet certain criteria, right? There's outcomes that the grantor is looking for you to fulfill. And how do you do that? I'll go back to the workforce space to maybe go outside of your example a little bit is, if we're looking to upskill someone, or we're having to upskill a community around a credential, I think you would first start with how many credentials are out there right now, who's offering them, right? And then what are the companies that are maybe hiring for it? And you start to put the pieces together to say, hey, right now there's demand or jobs for X number of people that would have this credential. And right now our community college system or maybe the programs that I'm running myself as a nonprofit are not meeting that demand number. So how do you go about scaling that and creating partnerships with your community college system, creating partnerships with other educational institutions, maybe K-12 to feed that funnel.
And then that data point should hopefully tick up at some point, right? Like we're now fulfilling the number of credentials needed. We're closing the skill gap. People are getting high wage, high demand jobs. Some of that's longitudinal data, which is candidly hard for nonprofits to track. And so how do they track that? Can they create partnerships with their state government to get that data so they can see the picture of a human from when they started their program to years after the program ended? So I think there's a lot of opportunity. I think that nonprofits collect a lot more data than they probably realize. And what they do with that data, there's just immense opportunity not only for the funding side, but to make those strategic decisions and what they should go do next or where the need is. So hopefully that addressed some of your question.
Jess: For sure. Amy, you want to add something?
Amy: I was…I always kind of think about it in the two different levels of what you're showing your impact. You're showing your output and your outcomes. And so I'll use the example of an educational program for maybe students in high school. You are doing tutoring sessions for these students and your output is that you have a hundred students that are coming in and receiving regular tutoring sessions. That's important information to know because that's information that funders want to hear. They want to know that my $20 helped five students come in and get support in the needed areas that they have for their education.
But what's even more important is the outcomes data that's coming out of that. So what is changing for the student out of those sessions that they're coming in and getting? Are they doing better in their classes? Are they feeling more prepared for their future? Are they getting credentials? Are they having unintended outcomes of it? Are they attending school more? Do they have better behavioral outcomes? And that's often the time that's missing in what nonprofits are collecting, is that outcomes data that comes out of it, which is also incredibly important for funders to know, but also for the organization itself to understand, so they can make better decisions about the long-term health and sustainability of their program.
If we have 100 students coming in, they're receiving tutoring, and nobody's improving standardized test scores, there is something fundamentally wrong with the work we're doing, and we need to address that. Right. And so oftentimes, it's that extra additional step that's being missed when people are thinking about what data they want to be taking in and analyzing.
Jess: Your outputs are kind of the outputs of your activities, your outcomes are sort of that transformation that most nonprofits are looking for. Is that right? Okay, so then if I follow that, I really like that. If I follow that through, one of my questions is you're starting to build a framework that gets up program efficacy. So would you all advise that someone is, you know, designing how to evaluate their program at the outset? Because that can sound really academic. Like how do you make the pragmatic?
Amy: I think that's vital personally to effective programming and technically they refer to it as programmatic monitoring and evaluation. So you have two phases of it and it needs to be set up for success from the beginning. The first is the monitoring part. How do you follow your program throughout running it to make sure that it is operating effectively? Are you hitting your benchmarks? Are you reaching the people you want to be reaching? And if not, while you're doing the program, you should have mechanisms to learn and adjust based on that. And then you have the evaluation part, which is at the end, which is we've done this, we've completed it. Did we meet the goal that we wanted to meet? Usually that comes at the end of a funding cycle, But you should have the mechanisms in throughout the whole thing to be able to say, are we continuously hitting your benchmarks? Because you don't want to get to the end and realize you spent a lot of money, a lot of time, and didn't do what you wanted to do.
Jess: Yeah. Well, and I keep thinking about, OK, so I think program evaluation, in all the other words you just said, aligned to measure and evaluation, they work really well when funded by a grant. I think it's really easy for nonprofits to get lost if they have individual donors, and there's no one really arguing that there's a necessity for that. And so budgeting for that can probably be a little bit trickier in different circumstances.
But to your point, if you want to understand if we can close our doors as an organization one day, because most people have access to affordable housing, or access to proper education for employment, whatever our scenario is, we have to know if we're making a dent in this thing, right? So it can be really well-intended, but we're not actually seeing the outcomes, if I'm using the right word, that we wanted.
And I had a CIO once, it was like my favorite CIO I've worked with, I hope no one else takes that personally, but we were talking about an IT project, and he was like, hey, what percent done are we? And I was like, well, you know, and I had all these as having and high. And he said, hey, Jess, we're just building a fence. Did you put a new fence post in or not? I don't need to know that it was 40% more than last week. I just want to know actual progress towards the end. And it made it so clear to me that we overcomplicate a lot of this. So I do think there are some grants or some fundraising where it's like, just go try a thing and see how it goes. But eventually we need to figure out if it's meaningful. And so if you can't attribute meaning, like what data is accessible, like pick education or pick affordable housing or pick individual, like Girl Scouts, Boy Scouts, like pick a nonprofit or a sector. But do you guys have in your heads some measurable examples of, hey, when a program's trying to be held up to, is there high efficacy? Is there fidelity in this process or framework? What are you seeing nonprofits using?
Amy: It's a great question. And I think it really goes back to that theory of change of what is their overarching goal, and then do it by that. Because, I mean, you can say, if you're an organization, say like Girls Inc, and you are trying to measure the impact you have on girls, then you have to have that framework in mind for any of the data that you come in.
So I think if you figure out your specific data points by the programs you're trying to enact, but it's making sure you have the right framework for how you're doing it. So a great example actually is the United Way of Central Indiana, who all of their work is around moving families out of ALICE and poverty, no matter what data they bring in, and they are incredibly sophisticated, they bring in a lot of data. The important part of it is all viewed out of the lens of how are we actively moving families out of ALICE and poverty.
Michael: And I'll build a little bit on what Amy said in a previous response. The outputs and the outcomes, I think it's really important to do short and long-term measures, right? Some of the, a lot of what nonprofits do, the outcome might not be able to be measured for 12, 24, 36 months, or even longer. It's much like our, sometimes like our education system, right? Like we can't actually measure if we did the right thing until it's 5 years later. But if that's your only measurement, you're not gonna be making those agile adjustments throughout that 5 year term. So you need to be able to be specific in what our short-term KPIs are as well, or outputs as Amy put it. And some of that could be qualitative and quantitative. That's where maybe some of our stories do come into play. We can't actually measure that outcome for that person for 5 years. But I know anecdotally that they told me like, yeah, this really helped me get my next job. Or I had no high school degree and now I do.
So some of those are data points that can be measured short-term and long-term. And I think it's important that organizations not just wait until the next funding cycle to measure their progress against their goals, but have some short-term, again, whether it's a quarterly number, a biannual number, something that they can look at more frequently to make adjustments.
Amy: And jumping off of that, we're talking a lot about program efficacy evaluation, which I'm really excited about because I think that often so much is lost in the conversations around what data nonprofits should be pulling in and analyzing. But there are two other really important aspects of the data they should be regularly bringing in and addressing.
One is their marketing and philanthropy part of it. Who are they reaching out to? Who are they fundraising from? Who are their donors? What is that base? That's when they can bring in a lot of really great CRM tools to figure out how are we getting this money in, when, why, and all of that great information. Then you have the program efficacy, but you also then have the operational data. How are you running as an organization? And it's just like you would for any other company that's trying to be successful and sustainable. How are we paying our employees? How is our employee retention? Are we meeting our budgets?
Michael: That is all just as important as that kind of central meat of the efficacy work. And I think the CRM is critical, especially when you're talking about an organization that is fundraising and maybe not getting philanthropy grants. You might not have the team capacity to go and ask each individual fundraiser or company that provides you money, hey, what do you care about? What do you really want us to go do? But the data will paint that picture for you.
Nonprofits are a lot of times hosting events. They're offering programming. And so through those data points, if you can track that person or that organization throughout and see, hey, this organization's attended all of our events about this topic. They must really care about this thing. So then that both enables you to market your other programming to them that might help them, that company or that person fix whatever problem they have. And it can also set up that fundraising question like, hey, we saw you've been very involved in this thing within our organization. We wanted to let you know this is how we're tackling it through ABCD, and E. We would really appreciate your donation of X. It will help us further this. And I think it can also help with figuring out what that X is, right? Like if they're paying for registrations or paying for access to various programs, how can you create a fundraising program that folds all that together and you can ask for maybe a slightly higher number than what you're getting right now?
Amy: Exactly, I worked with an organization prior to Resultant that helped local artisans from around the world break into markets with their goods, both domestic and international. And we had funders who, maybe like a couple funders, who said, I want to directly pay for professional development for these individuals. And we realized that was a really great opportunity to create a sponsorship program where in the future we could leverage for more individuals to be sponsored through our programs rather than trying and going back to just what you referenced earlier, figure out how we're going to use those restricted versus unrestricted funds to actually do the work we want to do. So it's great information that you can pull from there just by knowing how you're getting the money you're getting.
Michael: Yeah, I think the unrestricted funds are key to doing a lot of the operational pieces. It's sometimes very difficult to find philanthropies that are willing to pay for operational pieces to an organization to a nonprofit. So I think anything you can do to help build that budget is super helpful.
And I'll go back, maybe one other question that was just answered that I am gonna add to. Piloting programs, I think is something that nonprofits can really lean into more. If we think about a state proving something out within a single county and then saying, hey, this worked here, let's move that to county number two. I think that's really important for nonprofits that are maybe just starting to dip their toes into data. Don't start big, start small, prove it out, and then go to your funders and say, hey, we're in Indianapolis. So hey, this worked in Marion County. We think it's gonna also work in Allen County because it's the same demographics or similar demographics. And that can be a really good way to prove program efficacy and also scale your programming.
Jess: Yeah, great point. So you just naturally did something that I'm gonna force unpack, which is you leveraged data. There was this immediate off-the-cuff, my goal, like, yeah, of course, like these two counties have the same demographic, you're using data to be like, where would my program be next, more impactful? And how do I decide where to take it next? And so how you can leverage data for program efficacy is one thing, how you can leverage data to Amy's point, to better understand your donors and what they're interested in and how that aligns to your strategy and your mission and your vision and your values is critical too.
Like listening to them matters. And the fact that you could take on this idea of, oh man, we could go ahead and do a sponsorship program. That's what they're interested in. And it still aligns to our mission vision values. It does actually make it more feasible for us to say yes to more of those opportunities. I think that's awesome. And then like the ops budget, to me, this is just so you guys can correct me. This is where like you do need no nonsense leaders of nonprofits who have ran real businesses. So you do need people who understand the percentage of a budget that normally goes to marketing or normally goes to finance or that you actually need to run the business because you're already going to be in a scarcity mindset, you're already going to be thinking we have to do as much as we can with as little as possible.
Thank God for mission-driven people who definitely work more than 40 hours a week, because they just care about the mission, right? So they're relying on that already. But if you don't have the data to understand how hard your team is working, how many staff members you need, when you need to scale up or down, you can't defend those operational numbers to your board. And that's like the last piece to me, which is like board management really matters at a nonprofit. They're so passionate, they're so mission-oriented, they're so engaged. They're gonna have major influence over the direction of a nonprofit. So do you guys have any other thoughts on sort of board management? Any experience maybe that you already alluded to?
Amy: Yeah, 100%. So a lot of times the misconceptions about nonprofit is that either you have to be losing money or be working only on a razor-thin margin or just like, be net-neutral, no profit at all. That's not what nonprofit means. It just means that when you do have that overage, you invest it back into the services that you provide to a community.
So just like every other business, it has to be run fiscally sound. And that's really where a board comes into play because they do have legal and fiduciary responsibilities to the long-term sustainability of an organization. When you come onto a board, it's not just I'm going to volunteer my time because I care about it. You actually have a responsibility to the organization to carry it out in an ethical way. And so that's incredibly important to keep in mind for these organizations because the board is really driving a lot of the decisions that are going in. So they need to make sure they understand what's going in. And that's also another place where this data can really come in handy and making sure they understand the day to day so they can make better informed decision and they're also often making some of your donor foundation. So like they are the people who care not just in their time but their money as well and what they're willing to put their labor into. So they're incredibly vital.
I have seen nonprofit organizations fall apart because of disinterest from the board, mismanagement of the board, or just unethical offerings. So I couldn't overstate it enough how vital it is to the operations of a nonprofit.
Michael: Yeah, I echo everything Amy said. And I think another important part of assembling a nonprofit board is making sure you have a diverse group of people, whether that be demographically diverse, but also when you think of what companies they might represent, like do we have small business represented or are we just representing large enterprises? Do we have different industry sectors represented? Do we have public sector? All those things are important to getting a lot of different perspectives on your mission and helping you build what that strategy is that you're going to go do.
Jess: Quick curiosity. Have you guys seen nonprofits put like, program participants on the board?
Amy: I have seen maybe not technically the board, but definitely steering committees.
Jess: Okay. Okay. Just curious about that voice and how it's represented. That's intriguing.
Amy: Yeah. And oftentimes people who receive services from organizations end up going back and giving their time there as well. So we've heard that I was able to take an opportunity through the United Way of Central Indiana. They have the Impact United program that helps cultivate future board leaders. And we heard from individuals who are active in that program, who receive services from the nonprofits that we're now supporting as future board members.
Jess: That's awesome.
Amy: And so it is really like a fulfilling cycle there.
Michael: I agree with Amy on that piece as well. I have seen sometimes program participants give a presentation at a board meeting. Hey, this is how this program impacted my life. This is why I did it. This is how I found out about it. And this is where I am now.
Jess: Let me ask you this. So from a rich background in nonprofits, do either of you struggle with some of the heartstring stuff? Like, I have gotten a little bit burnout where I'm like, I get it, everyone, and I feel bad about it. But there is this sense of like when you go to a fundraising event from a major nonprofit and it's like a gala and it's like fancy and everything's great and I'm just like, it feels so weird that we have to spend this much money to get this much money for a nonprofit. But it works. It is a functioning approach that works, but do you guys ever have like a, is it just me that's becoming heartless and cold? Or do you ever struggle with, oh, they're pulling at my heartstrings and it's working and I feel so uncomfortable?
Amy: I have this conversation with people a lot around compensation and working in nonprofits. Okay. Because it does feel weird to make money off of working with people in need. Like that feels counterproductive, but you're there because you're passionate and you have a skill and you want to help the community, but it does feel counterproductive sometimes.
Jess: Okay. So it sounds like it's just not, I just, I get to this point where I'm like, I don't want to feel, I know that intent isn't emotional manipulation, but there are moments where I'm like, your job is to conjure that, evoke that, I shouldn't say conjure, but like evoke that reaction out of me. And like, it's already there, I'm good. Let me just give you my money. And so there are times where I do, I'll look inward and try and diagnose myself later as to why I have this problem. If we had a CRM set up right now, we would note that in Jess's profile. Don't tug at heartstrings, just ask for money.
Amy: It's really hard. I think about it when you are walking down the street and you have people from Amnesty International who are waiting there to tell you all about or save the children all about the amazing things they want to do and they have had these pamphlets and they're really there to connect you. Cause that's, I mean, it takes five seconds to connect someone and they need to connect you because that is what drives people to give money is the emotion side of it. And so you, you just have to make sure you're not moving into exploitation. I appreciate that. So like I had an organization that I used to work with who refused to put any children on any marketing materials. They served children, that was a key demographic of who they served, but they refused to put any picture of any child. And now, did they receive more or less money because of that? I don't know, but it was something that was important to them as an entity. That felt to them, whatever that word is. Exploitative, I got you. That one, they felt like they were exploiting the children by using that marketing.
Jess: Wow. Okay. Well, before I wrap up, is there anything else you guys want to add that we haven't already talked about?
Michael: Yeah. I think the last thing I'd just add is like data is important on both the strategic front end of building programs, like use data on the front end to make your decisions on what you want to go do. Find that there's a need, right? Like don't just go do something because you think it sounds good, someone else might already be doing that and you can fill a different need, right? And then use it on the back end for that program efficacy as well. So I think what we've established is there's a full spectrum, like, use it to build your strategy, continually assess, and then hopefully produce those outcomes at the very end. Like, it should be a day-to-day thing for nonprofits to be looking at and leveraging their data.
Amy: For sure. Yeah. And I think my final thing is, it is really hard to talk to nonprofits about investing in data and technology, because every dollar they invest in those systems, they see as a dollar coming away from the people in the community who really need it. But at the end of the day, it's thinking about how are we going to make sure the services that we deliver are the most effective and every dollar we are going in there is going to the right places at the right times for the right reasons. And you're not going to be able to have that full picture and understand that full story without that data.
Jess: If you have specific topics that you want to hear about more, please rate and review the podcast and let us know how we can work to incorporate those into future episodes. Thank you for listening. I'm your host, Jess Carter. And don't forget to follow Data Driven Leadership wherever you get your podcasts and rate and review letting us know how these data topics are transforming your business. We can't wait for you to join us on our next episode.
Insights delivered to your inbox