By the numbers: driving decisions through data

Hannah Lebovits HeadshotBy Hannah Lebovits, Manager, Knowledge Building, United Way of Greater Cleveland

When I bought my last big appliance, I spent weeks comparing products and specs. This freezer had more cubic space but that refrigerator had French doors and came with a better warranty. The pro and con lists were extensive and I was sure that by the time I decided, the model would be out of stock. Eventually, I asked a few people with similar preferences which models they would suggest and narrowed my selection to the three most popular. When I finally decided and made my purchase, I was confident that the product in my kitchen would stand the test of time, and my large family!

Whether it’s buying a new refrigerator or crafting an operation strategy, we often turn to data to guide us in the decision-making process. In the nonprofit sector especially, there has been an increased push to make data-driven choices. But what does that really mean in a sector dedicated to human services? What kind of data produces valuable knowledge? To answer those questions, United Way offered a data workshop for health and human service agencies at Vocational Guidance Services. The May 25 lunchtime event featured Matt Finley, assistant director of United Way 2-1-1 and Emily Campbell, assistant director at the Center for Community Solutions. 

Finley started off the event by describing the 2-1-1 process and where data collection seamlessly fits into the service model. Expounding upon this, Campbell identified the best path toward using data to tell an accurate and impactful organizational story. While presenting, Campbell asked the audience to weigh in by use of a real-time poll. The polling showed that of the over eighty people gathered at VGS, a majority of them were thirsty for more data. But having more isn’t enough, according to Campbell.

“We live in a data rich, analysis poor world,” she said. Even when we do get the data we seek, we must transform it into impactful information that highlights success and identifies where improvements are needed.

The participants represented a variety of nonprofit, government, higher education and philanthropic institutions. However, while attendees were able to hear about some new tools to collect and utilize data, they were unable to test the new methods in the 90-minute session.

Therefore, on June 2nd we followed up the training with a “capacity clinic” where data consultants from the Center for Community Solutions, Policy Matters Ohio and CMSD spent three hours working one-on-one with agency representatives to provide insight and new perspectives on data collection and analysis.

The conference room at the Benjamin Rose Institute on Aging was hopping when the first group walked in at 9:30 and the movement was constant up until the last minute. Every attendee enjoyed the experience and reported that the expert was easy to talk with and extremely helpful.

While cleaning up after the clinic, I couldn’t help comparing my appliance purchasing experience to the training and subsequent clinic. Like many of the people at the data event, I was excited to gather more information and find the best product. But speaking with another person and gaining their insight and expertise helped me to feel truly confident in my decision.

Collecting data to make informed decisions; it’s a guiding strategy for everyday life, and the greater mission of the nonprofit community.

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