Data-Driven Decisions from Pierce County Nonprofits
In 2017, Greater Tacoma Community Foundation awarded $500,000 in single and multi-year grants to 39 nonprofit organizations through its Strengthening Pierce County program, which provides general operating support funds. These flexible funds are designed to bolster smaller nonprofits who are addressing critical issues to sustain and build a stronger Pierce County.
Greater Tacoma Community Foundation’s goal is to support organizations with clear mission and programmatic alignment, who learn from their constituents, participate in field building activities, and assess their impact.
Data, evaluation, and metrics support nonprofits in making strategic choices to serve their mission.
Through conversations with this year’s Strengthening Pierce County grantees, we discovered themes among local nonprofits. In this, the second of three posts about themes from Strengthening Pierce County grantees, we explore how five local nonprofits have used quantitative data to make important decisions.
Oasis Youth Center is the only drop-in and support center dedicated to the needs of LGBTQ youth ages 14-24 in Pierce County. A youth-adult partnership for shared teaching, learning, and action, Oasis is supported by a team of dozens of staff and volunteers. Oasis offers activities, education, and advocacy for more than 500 youth annually.
Oasis Youth Center credits their participation in the Youth Program Quality Initiative as a transformative experience for the organization. The Youth Program Quality system draws on research around positive outcomes for children and youth, and emphasizes the skills, knowledge, and tools necessary to better engage and interact with youth. For Oasis, the Youth Program Quality language helped as they launched a new organizational model, including adding more staff and providing supports for youth members under the age of 18.
Oasis Youth Center credits their participation in the Youth Program Quality Initiative as a transformative experience for the organization.
Evaluating information and feedback from participants, Oasis looked more closely at barriers affecting youth’s ability to return to the center. Transportation can be a big issue. Another challenge for youth under 18 can be a lack family support. Oasis responded to youth requests for more programming hours and, as a result, youth participation increased.
The Gig Harbor BoatShop carries on the legacy of the historic Eddon Boatyard and the local working waterfront through programs that focus on boat restoration and repair, boatbuilding, and boat use. The boatyard facility hosts working, hands-on activities for youth and adults like the Family Boat Building Program, where participant families or groups build a skiff in a weekend.
With a strong volunteer base and a long-term restoration goal for the property, The BoatShop developed a strategic plan they say helps them look at their programs and how they spend their time. Establishing quarterly monitoring on their fundraising goals has helped them make progress and informed a decision to put more staff time toward achieving those goals.
The BoatShop developed a strategic plan they say helps them look at their programs and how they spend their time.
The strategic plan and close analysis of their work helped when The BoatShop received a gift of the “Veteran”, an historic purse seiner built by the Skansie Boatbuilding Company in 1926. Although the boat held great potential, it also needed a lot of work.
By crunching the numbers and looking at their strategic plan, The BoatShop saw how the “Veteran” was central to their mission and worth the considerable investment. The BoatShop has already started excursions on the “Veteran”, and they recognize the value of planning and data-driven decisions.
In partnership with public schools facing the greatest dropout challenges, Communities In Schools brings resources and volunteers into schools to help struggling students get back on track. Their model places a Communities In Schools site coordinator in a school to assess needs, make a plan, and coordinate intensive interventions for the kids most at risk for dropping out, along with services geared toward supporting the entire school.
In addition to building a strong staff team, Communities In Schools created an updated strategic plan. A retreat helped them develop a clearer vision and focus area that lines up with their 253 Impact Zone, as well as a theory of action to help maintain that alignment as they made decisions regarding programs and services. As a result, Communities In Schools narrowed their focus to three primary topics—basic resources, parent and community engagement, and community service.
As a result, Communities In Schools narrowed their focus to three primary topics—basic resources, parent and community engagement, and community service.
Looking ahead, Communities In Schools is working on data systems in several areas including: donors, their school partnerships, information around Adverse Childhood Experiences and Social Emotional Learning for their student participants. They are also looking at micro-data from the health department and local law enforcement agencies to better advocate for Tacoma’s south side schools. At Oakland High School, the largest alternative school in Pierce County, they are starting a school-based health center partnership which includes an exam room where students can be assessed for health care referrals.
Rebuilding Together South Sound is part of the national Rebuilding Together organization. Volunteers repair or rebuild homes at no cost to low-income homeowners, particularly those who are elderly, disabled or families with children. Rebuilding Day is an organized day of community-wide repair projects which takes place on the last weekend in April. They also addresses home modification and emergency repairs through a Year Round Program.
Factors such as staffing needs, number of repairs, and scope of work reviewed and negotiated in advance.
Carefully analyzing numbers helped Rebuilding Together South Sound in taking a contract for home repairs with the City of Tacoma. Factors such as staffing needs, number of repairs, and scope of work were reviewed and negotiated in advance. Now, they are gathering data during the program for future analysis to better understand how to match a house with the program that’s going to fit best. They plan to carry out another evaluation process after 6 months and again after 2 years.
Washington Engage aims to prevent human trafficking in Washington State by equipping the vulnerable and engaging communities. Their programs focus on raising awareness in the general community to prevent the trafficking of individuals.
It wasn’t easy, but the organization’s intentional approach helped them make strong strategic choices.
As a grassroots organization run largely by volunteers, Washington Engage knows that a strong focus will help their mission. As a result, they developed a logic model to evaluate their programs. It wasn’t easy, but the organization’s intentional approach helped them make strong strategic choices.
Based on their analysis, they surveyed coalition members about possible changes. They also chose to focus on groups of community members who are doing things on the ground, and working with young people as a prevention organization. They plan to keep their efforts based where they already have a foothold (Pierce, Thurston and Skagit Counties) rather than starting new work in other parts of the state.
Although they recognize the value of data in their work, the organization has found it challenging to get good data on human trafficking in general. Sometimes conflicting data exists. Washington Engage decided to work with Data for Good to help them wade through some of the local numbers.
Nonprofit organizations face difficult decisions every day. Good choices can support both mission and operations, as well as pave the way for more effective fundraising. Through the experiences of these organizations, we see how an intentional plan, clearly-defined benchmarks, and consistent data analysis help nonprofits make good choices.
The Final Round of Strengthening Pierce County Grants is Now Open for Applications –
Deadline Friday, January 19, 2018 4:00 PM
Greater Tacoma Community Foundation is dedicated to capacity-building, fostering peer learning among nonprofit organizations, and sharing best practices for a stronger Pierce County.
Share how you’ve made your organization stronger through data-driven decisions on our Facebook page.