Nonprofits demand data

By Jennifer Davies

For nonprofits, their success has long been tied to whether they can tell their story in a compelling way. But now, it is just as important for nonprofits to make sure their numbers add up. With the rise of big data and a demand for evidence-based decision making, more nonprofits need to be able to demonstrate the impact of their work. In fact, their funders are demanding it.

“We have moved into an era where just having an important cause or an emotional story is not enough,” said Josh Shapiro, director of UC San Diego’s Center for Research on the Regional Economy. “You need to demonstrate how you are making a difference because funders have become more impact driven. You need data to effectively tell your story.”

Because of the demand for nonprofits to show – and not merely tell – how they are making a difference, UC San Diego Extension has developed a new certificate in Community Research and Program Evaluation that is launching this fall. The 12-unit program will teach those at nonprofits how to design and implement a rigorous evaluation of their organizations’ work to demonstrate the benefits to the community and to their funders.

Shapiro said many of the 3,500 nonprofits throughout San Diego are clamoring for help in setting up systems to collect, organize and analyze their data so they can demonstrate they are delivering on their stated mission.

“After working with numerous nonprofits, I realized the directors and program managers were extremely smart and cared deeply about their mission, but none were trained in research and evaluation techniques. Data was an elusive necessity,” said Shapiro.

Aimee Zeitz, chief impact and data officer for the United Way of San Diego who served as an advisor during the development of the certificate, said the skills that will be taught are essential to any nonprofit.

“I see this certificate as a critical development opportunity across multiple fields,” she said. “From the community perspective working with hundreds of nonprofits in San Diego, this is spot on.”

Shapiro agreed, saying the program is ideal for those working in schools, health care organizations, government, nonprofits, social service agencies and consulting firms. He said the certificate is designed to benefit a nonprofit organization in the short run while helping participants advance their careers in the increasingly competitive nonprofit sector, which currently employs more than 105,000 people in the region.

“Like almost every other sector, data analysis in the nonprofit world is not a nice-to-have skillset, it is a must-have,” Shapiro said.

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