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The Funder’s Role in Data Collection: Insights From Peer Funders

Data can be a scary word, but it also can be a thing of beauty when you’re looking to develop more efficient processes, make better decisions, or help your grantees find new ways of doing things.

As a funder, you can have a role in supporting the data collection efforts of your grantees. This doesn’t mean all efforts fall to you, nor does it mean your grantees should be tasked with overly cumbersome data tracking processes. The key is balance.

We’ve been chatting with our grantmaker community and have some tips directly from their experiences to share with you. After all, everything is less scary when you’re not alone.

Note: The funders mentioned below are speaking on Foundant’s upcoming webinars The Funder’s Role in Collecting, Tracking, and Using Data and Funder-Grantee Relationships. Register today to hear more about their experiences.  

Discuss

Before diving in, it’s important to communicate with staff, board, and grantees to set appropriate expectations. Think about how the work aligns with your mission, vision, and values. Ask, How will we know if we’ve succeeded? How can we partner with our grantees to achieve these goals together?

How can we be more mindful of the challenges and frustrations nonprofits face in tracking impacts and outcomes, especially as they are being forced to do more with less? As a sector, let’s challenge ourselves to be open, honest, understanding, and commit to communicating more about expectations, capacity, limitations and possibilities.

—From Unintended Consequences: The Hidden Impact of Impact and Outcomes by Sharmila Rao Thakkar, SRT Consulting and Advising in partnership with Foundant Technologies (Moderator: The Funder’s Role in Collecting, Tracking, and Using Data and Funder-Grantee Relationships)

Collect

Figuring out what data can be collected that paints the best picture without being overly burdensome can be a challenge. Also, what data can we collect that is the same across three different program strategies?

—Kristen Summers, Saint Luke’s Foundation (Speaker: The Funder’s Role in Collecting, Tracking, and Using Data)

The next step, data collection, is often where funders make critical decisions about what information will be useful and why. How do you choose, when it all seems important? Refer back to the discussions you had early on. Are you staying in line with the expectations you set with your stakeholders?

We use our LOI as a tool to ensure that all requests align with the foundation’s mission, vision, and values. We ask questions that require the charity to indicate whether or not they fit. Our Granting Committee also assesses both at the LOI and Application Evaluation stage how well every request fits. Our scorecard asks detailed questions to evaluate each project with fit to the foundation’s mission, vision, values and granting priorities.

—Frances Wilson, Acts of Grace Foundation (Speaker: Funder-Grantee Relationships)

By collecting information that aligns with their mission, vision, and values, and creating a “scorecard” out of the statements that are their organizational drivers, Acts of Grace Foundation is able to streamline their data collection practices and focus on information that will tell them whether they are aligned with their mission and whether their grantees have achieved the goals they said they would.

Spending the time up front to craft indicators and strategy means they don’t leave grantees questioning whether they are reaching their intended benchmarks… allowing grantees to focus more on the mission work and less on tracking minute details. Not to mention how much time it saves foundation staff, since they will not have to wade through excess information.

Track

The next step is tracking. By keeping your eye on how data are trending over time, you’ll be better informed and able to adjust processes as needed.

We track number of people served, lessons learned, if grantees met their objectives, actual budget/expenditures vs expected at the time of application, and stories of how lives have changed. We use this to show our impact to our board and community, but also to better inform others working on similar projects. We also track how applicants score on their proposals (by looking at reviewer rubrics) to see if our questions are getting us the information we want. For example, if all applicants score an average of 3.0 on a 7-point scale on how completely they explained something, that tells us our question may not be written well.

—Christine Mulvin, The HealthPath Foundation of Ohio (Speaker: The Funder’s Role in Collecting, Tracking, and Using Data)

Tracking information through an ongoing process (not just at the beginning and end of a grant) can also be helpful as a learning tool for your grantees. As the funder, you may be able to identify opportunities for your grantees to adjust in order to better align with outcome goals. Or you might be able to identify roadblocks or misinformation ahead of time.

We’ve started instituting interim grant reports this year that we find wildly helpful. Grantees check in with us about halfway through their programs and tell us how their program is going. At this time, we can check back in with them and address any concerns, or touch base on how the grant is being expended. If they need to move things around, we try to get ahead of the curve and be in the loop while the grant is still occurring.

—Elise Pollick Byrnes, York County Community Foundation (Speaker: The Funder’s Role in Data Collection)

Use

Ultimately, the reason for collecting and tracking data is to use it. You not only want to know whether you’ve met expectations and created impact, but you also want to improve processes, create more efficient practices, and leverage your knowledge for “next time.”

If you’re being intentional and focusing on collecting the right data from the start, there should be multiple ways you can use this information later on.

We use the information we collect to revise funding opportunities, to revise organizational goals, to inform applicants of what might make a project successful or might be an obstacle, to help applicants craft better budgets, and to show our impact and make changes to enhance our strategic initiatives.

—Christine Mulvin, The HealthPath Foundation of Ohio (Speaker: The Funder’s Role in Collecting, Tracking, and Using Data)

Do It Responsibly and Respectfully

The funder’s role in data collection goes beyond the tactical aspects of collecting, tracking, and using information. Funders stand front and center as models of responsible data collection that strengthens nonprofit partners, not wastes their valuable resources.

We cannot ask for data and information and expect nonprofits to not only know how to secure that information but have the resources in place to do so. Furthermore… the variations in what funders ask can send nonprofits into a tailspin of collecting individual bits of information to satisfy respective donors, irrespective of the very respect that should define the funder-grantee relationship. It’s not only unproductive, it can be a waste of time, money, and resources.

Dare to be bold and mix it up a bit… Talk to your grantees about what they’re already doing first. Revisit your shared goals and vision. Use existing resources and sources that may tell the story. Ask for less or nothing at all. If you want more, invest more. After all, working in partnership to collect and share information will make it all the more worthwhile and valuable for us all.

—From Guide: Maximize Your Data Collection Efforts by Sharmila Rao Thakkar, SRT Consulting and Advising in partnership with Foundant Technologies

Ready to take your data collection to the next level? Join Foundant Technologies during our next education webinar The Funder’s Role in Collecting, Tracking, and Using Data as we speak with funders about their experiences, practices, and lessons learned.

Foundant Technologies, an Exponent Philanthropy Platinum Sustaining Partner, provides intuitive, integrated software solutions to help maximize the impact of the philanthropic community. Through a company-wide dedication to honest, lasting relationships, Foundant strives to ensure client success above all else.

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