26 posts categorized "Data Visualization"

Most Popular PhilanTopic Posts (June 2017)

July 05, 2017

Don't know if you all agree, but it's unanimous here at PND: Whoever invented the four-day weekend deserves a medal. We've got a busy July lined up, but before we get too far into it, we figured this would be a good time to look back at the blog content you found especially interesting in June, including new posts by Rotary International's John Hewko, Battalia Winston's Susan Medina, DataViz for Nonprofit's Amelia Kohm, regular contributor Kathryn Pyle, and the Center for Social Impact Communication at Georgetown University. Enjoy!

What have you read/watched/heard lately that got your attention, made you think, or charged you up? Feel free to share in the comments section below. Or drop us a line at mfn@foundationcenter.org.

Show Me: Why Your Data Should Be Seen (and Not Just Read)

June 19, 2017

The following post is part of a year-long series here on PhilanTopic that addresses major themes related to the center’s work: the use of data to understand and address important issues and challenges; the benefits of foundation transparency for donors, nonprofits/NGOs, and the broader public; the emergence of private philanthropy globally; the role of storytelling in conveying the critical work of philanthropy; and what it means, and looks like, to be an effective, high-functioning foundation, nonprofit, or changemaker in the twenty-first century. As always, we welcome your thoughts and feedback.

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"Frothy eloquence neither convinces nor satisfies me. I am from Missouri. You have got to show me."

So proclaimed Willard Duncan, a Missouri congressman, in an 1899 speech. Perhaps because I, too, hail from the Show-Me state, I have taken his advice to heart. Now let me convince you of its wisdom.

First let's talk about data. Nonprofit organizations are lousy with it — participant data, program data, financial data, sales data, fundraising data. Nonprofits are drinking from a fire hose and the water pressure is building. We are scrambling just to find enough bandwidth to store our data. And like secretive hoarders, we are reluctant to admit how little of this data we actually use. We may pay lip service to "evidence-based practices" or "data-driven strategies," or even borrow acronyms like ROI (return on investment) and KPI (key performance indicator) from the for-profit world. But, when pressed, many nonprofit managers admit they are not data people. They care deeply about people and programs, but their eyes glaze over at the sight of a spreadsheet.

It's okay: we're wired that way. (More on our wiring in a minute.) But for now, let's look at some other reasons why nonprofits may not be making good use of their data.

Top Reasons Nonprofits Avoid Data

Nonprofits avoid data for any number of understandable reasons. In my experience, the primary causes include:

Data animus. Many nonprofit staff members possess expertise in environmental issues, the arts, health, or education but not data analysis. Some suffer from data aversion. They admit — or sometimes proudly proclaim — that they are not "numbers people."

Time. Nonprofit staffers do not have time for data analysis. They are struggling to stay afloat, to submit the next proposal, to sustain their programs, to address the huge and varied needs of their clientele, to cultivate donors. As a result, digging through data is almost always a back-burner item.

Fear. Some worry about what their data might reveal. They fear they won't be able to control the narrative, that the data will be taken out of context, or that funders will withdraw their support based on the data.

"Dirty" data. Many nonprofits have entry-level staff or multiple staff entering data into management information systems or spreadsheets. The result can be "dirty" data — data with a troubling level of inaccuracy because it has not been entered correctly and/or consistently. If, for example, Michael Smith is entered twice, once with a middle initial and once without, then tracking his progress through your program will be difficult.

Wrong data. While many nonprofits have data on their financials and clients, they often lack data that demonstrates the positive social impact of their programs. A tutoring program may not track students' school grades or test scores. An employment program may lack data on program graduates' wages over time.

Disconnected data. Rather than maintaining a central management information system, small nonprofits often store their data in separate Excel spreadsheets. Which means Michael Smith's demographic profile might be captured in one spreadsheet while his attendance in various programs is stored in another, making analysis of, say, age-to-program participation next to impossible.

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Dashboards: Nonprofits' New Best Friend

December 22, 2015

Executive-dashboard-example-1_0If you lead or help manage a nonprofit organization, you know how hard it can be to provide clarity and transparency to your stakeholders. Revenue streams are unpredictable, databases can be hard to work with, and money has to be allocated where it is needed, not necessarily where it provides value. And all this while donors and funders insist on holding your organization accountable. Because of these and other factors, reporting systems in nonprofits often are less than state-of-the-art, spreadsheets provide numbers but not critical analysis, and meaningful data-driven conclusions are hard to come by.

That's why a growing number of nonprofit leaders and decision-makers are turning to a powerful visibility tool to overcome such obstacles: the dashboard.

Good dashboards integrate and visualize vast amounts of data from different sources into a single-screen presentation that can be understood at a glance. The most effective dashboard solutions are intuitive, visually dynamic, and present an accessible real-time look into a range of metrics. The combination of comprehensive data gathering with superior data visualization make dashboards a vital tool for organizations looking to gain critical insights and a fresh perspective on their activities.

Case study insights

To get a sense of how dashboards can have a positive impact, consider the United Way of Metropolitan Dallas's experience. Burdened by incompatible donor database and financial systems, the organization sought a solution that would integrate disparate data sources and enable it to upgrade out-of-date and hard-to-understand internal reporting mechanisms.

By implementing a powerful customized dashboard solution, UWMD was able to transform its reporting so that its board now receives timely information — including specific goals, updates on revenue and key performance indicators (KPIs), and a range of metrics related to progress toward longer-term goals — in an easy-to-understand format.

In addition to organization-wide tracking, the organization also uses dashboards for individual initiatives such as monitoring funds raised in a given year and big-picture progress on its campaigns. In a field where transparency is critical to success, making it clear to internal stakeholders where and how assets are being used is essential.

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Weekend Link Roundup (November 7-8, 2015)

November 08, 2015

AcornsOur weekly round up of noteworthy items from and about the social sector. For more links to great content, follow us on Twitter at @pndblog....

Climate Change

It would seem as if we have only two unattractive options when it comes to climate change, writes Ross Anderson in The Atlantic. "We can continue pumping CO2 into the atmosphere. We can cross our fingers that we adapt to a warming climate, and that earth's natural systems adapt too. Or we can transition to a cleaner global energy system, at a speed that is unprecedented, across all of history." But what if there's a third option? Anderson talks to Oliver Morton an editor at The Economist and the author of The Planet Remade: How Geoengineering Could Change the World about what might be humankind's last best hope.

Data

Did the government of Rwanda manipulate data to show that poverty in the small central African country fell, when, it fact, it rose? Humanosphere's Tom Murphy takes a closer look and uncovers a fundamental truth about data: It's not so much having it that matters, it's how you use it.

How important is "open data" to the success of the recently ratified Sustainable Development Goals? Pretty darn important, argue William Gerry and Kathryn Pritchard.

"We spend tens of billions of dollars on social services for low-income households each year, but we have only the vaguest ideas of where those dollars go, what impact they have, and where unmet needs exist," writes Scott Allard, a professor in the University of Washington's Evans School of Public Policy and Governance, on the Brookings Institute blog. To address this "information void," the Salvation Army and the Lilly Family School of Philanthropy at Indiana University have developed a Human Needs Index drawn from service provision tracking systems maintained by more than seven thousand Salvation Army sites nationwide. With a little luck, adds Allard, the index will be both "a cool data visualization tool or source of information for academic inquiry into the measurement of need" and a  model of "how communities and philanthropy might collect, share, and use data to improve outcomes for clients, organizations, and community residents."

Education

At a panel hosted by NCRP in October, Lori Bezahler, president of the Edward Hazen Foundation, was asked to consider whether market-driven strategies can be expected to drive equity in education. Her thoughts are here.

Higher Education

Findings from the Chronicle of Higher Education's annual report on the fundraising results of the top ten public and private colleges and universities in America are both "sobering and instructive." Dr. Brian C. Mitchell, director of the Edvance Foundation, explains.

In an op-ed in USA Today, Glenn Harlan Reynolds, a University of Tennessee law professor and the author of The New School: How the Information Age Will Save American Education From Itself, has a few suggestions for "ending" the Ivy League and, at the same time, mitigating the inequality that America's favorite "bastion of elitism" contributes so significantly to:

  1. Eliminate the tax deductibility of contributions to schools having endowments in excess of $1 billion.
  2. Require that all schools with endowments of more than $1 billion spend at least 10 percent of their endowment annually on student financial aid.
  3. Require that university admissions be based strictly on objective criteria such as grades and SAT/ACT scores, with random drawings used to cull the herd further if necessary.

Yale has announced that it is committing $50 million over the next five years to diversify its faculty.

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Building a Strong Money-in-Politics Reform Movement

October 20, 2015

Democracy requires constant vigilance. Too often, however, our liberty is taken for granted. Unless we vehemently protect it, democracy will perish.

Teddy Roosevelt recognized this better than most. He was, of course, a complicated leader with a mixed legacy, but in his time he saw clearly what you and I see clearly today: that the ability of our elected officials to govern effectively is compromised by a rigged system, and that it is our responsibility to fix it when necessary.

Although the Supreme Court's 2010 decision in Citizens United has further compromised the system, it is inaccurate to blame the status quo exclusively on the court's ruling. The massive, sprawling system of political money and influence-peddling that increasingly paralyzes Washington and state capitals has been mushrooming out of control for forty years.

The result is quietly but profoundly devastating. On the spectrum that exists between democracy and oligarchy, where would you place America? My friend Mark McKinnon, who many know as George W. Bush's former communications director, recently commented: "Our system is an oligarchy." And poll after poll show that Americans agree.

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To Strengthen Democracy in America, Think Tech

October 06, 2015

A decade-and-a-half into the digital century, the vast majority of large foundations concerned with strengthening American democracy don't seem to get tech. According to the new Foundation Funding for U.S. Democracy tool recently launched by Foundation Center, out of a total of 18,446 grants awarded since 2011 by more than 1,300 funders focused on the broad range of issues and efforts related to democracy, just 962 have been focused on technology.

What's more, that represents only $215 million out of a total of $2.435 billion awarded to study and/or reform campaigns, elections, and voting systems; expand civic participation; research or upgrade government performance; and/or study the workings of the media and improve public access to media. The Foundation Center tool also reveals that the universe of foundations making technology-related grants is much smaller, at 186, than the overall funder pool, as is the recipient base.

Tech_constellations_image

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Most Popular PhilanTopic Posts (September 2015)

October 02, 2015

Although PhilanTopic was on vacation for a couple of weeks, our readers found lots to chew on, content-wise, in September, including new posts by Derrick Feldmann and Claire Axelrad, infographics from Bloomerang and the ALS Association, a timely post by Foundation Center president Brad Smith, and perennially popular posts by nonprofit executive director Susan Danish and fundraising consultant Richard Brewster. As for us? We'll always have Paris....

What have you read, watched, or listened to lately that warmed your baguette? Feel free to it share in the comments section below, or drop us a line at mfn@foundationcenter.org.

Money, Data, and Democracy

September 29, 2015

The U.S. presidential election is thirteen months away. At this point, more than fifty candidates are vying for nomination by the two major parties. The field includes the lone member of the United States Senate to stand as a Socialist and a New York City businessman who has four corporate bankruptcy filings to his name. Members of the voting public may be said to fall into two camps at this point — political junkies who simply cannot ever get enough of campaign politics and the majority of Americans who plan to tune in about a year from now. The former group is hell-bent on getting enough attention from the latter to raise the country's dismal voting percentage to its presidential-election average, which hovers around 60 percent (ten points lower than the average for OECD countries).

Democracy_data_600

Voter turnout is a big deal. Not just to political junkies and clipboard-wielding party volunteers but also to American foundations. According to Foundation Center's newest mapping tool, Foundation Funding for U.S. Democracy, 180 foundations have spent more than $150 million on voter education, registration, and turnout since 2011, a period that includes one presidential and one midterm election.

Seems like a lot of money to get Americans to do what people in many other countries die for. But we're good at spending a lot of money on our democracy. Even this early in the campaign, big donors are talking big numbers, promising (threatening?) to spend $100 million or more each on their favorite candidates or issues. And political junkies are predicting that more than $4.4 billion will be spent on TV ads alone — while election spending in total could run as high as $10 billion. Suddenly, nearly $150 million of foundation funding over four years doesn't look so big in comparison to $10 billion for a single election cycle.

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Weekend Link Roundup (May 9-10, 2015)

May 10, 2015

TulipsOur weekly roundup of noteworthy items from and about the social sectorFor more links to great content, follow us on Twitter at @pndblog....

Climate Change

According to a report from the Asian Development Bank, the battle against climate change is likely to be won or lost in Asia's expanding megacities, which are poised to contribute more than half the rise in global greenhouse gas emissions over the next twenty years.

In a Q&A with the Nature Conservancy's Mark Tercek, Jerry Taylor, of the Niskanen Center, makes the conservative case for a tax on carbon tax. 

Corporate Philanthropy

On the Tech Crunch site, Kim-Mai Cutler reports on Salesforce Foundation head Suzanne DiBianca's efforts to spread the San Francisco-based cloud-based computing company's "1-1-1" philanthropic model" -- in which 1 percent of the company’s equity is set aside for philanthropic donations, 1 percent of employee time is earmarked for volunteering, and 1 percent of its products and services are donated to nonprofits -- to the tech startup scene in New York City.

Data Visualization

On the Fast.co Design site, Mark Wilson, founder of Philanthroper.com, reports  that the days of the truly creative infographic are over, killed -- like so much else -- by the smartphone, which now accounts for roughly 50 percent of the traffic on the World Wide Web.

Disaster Relief

Be sure to check out the report in The New Yorker by Prasant Jha, an associate editor at the Hindustan Times and a visiting fellow at the Center for the Advanced Study of India at the University of Pennsylvania, on the scale of the devastation in and around Kathmandu, the sprawling capital city of Nepal, which was struck by a magnitude 7.8 earthquake on April 25.  Elsewhere, the Asian Philanthropy Forum shares some helpful advice and a list of NGOs currently on the ground in Nepal, which will be dealing with the consequences of the disaster for weeks, months, and years to come.

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How to Visualize Philanthropy? Listen. Improve. Repeat.

March 24, 2015

FM_Tight_Network_Example_When Foundation Center was developing Foundation Maps, a platform through which users can explore the world of philanthropy, our staff met with dozens of potential end users. My colleagues connected with foundations, funder networks, philanthropy consultants, and nonprofits — on their home turf, whenever possible — to better understand how they do their work. The goal was to spark ideas for how we could create tools to make their jobs easier. Just as a site visit brings a grantee’s work to life for funders, these user experience (UX) interviews enabled our geographers, programmers, and web designers to deepen their understanding of your needs and envision new possibilities.

Our process can be summed up in three words. Listen. Improve. Repeat.

Listen: We synthesized what we heard from our UX investigation and channeled it into the first iteration of the Foundation Maps application. Features were developed to help target audiences meet their core needs: scanning (funders), member support (funder networks), client service (consultants), and fundraising (nonprofits). We launched Foundation Maps with the ability to visualize funder, recipient, and grant data through a variety of filters with map and list views. The Professional version added even more sophisticated features, including trend charts, demographic overlays, and something we named Pathways (philanthropy's version of the "Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon" game).

Improve: In our view, a platform like Foundation Maps is never finished; we're constantly striving to make enhancements. To keep it fresh, Foundation Center cleans, codes, and adds new data to the platform every week. We keep a running list of user needs that informs future improvements. We just introduced a free trial with a quick feedback survey. And we plan to keep sharing what we're learning in a free webinar series to be held on the first Wednesday of each month, starting April 1.

Repeat: Meanwhile, suggestions from our original UX interviews continue to inform our development work. For example, we learned there's a critical need to quickly and easily see what funding is happening at the local level, and that has served as guidepost for us, informing our Get on the Map campaign with the Forum of Regional Associations of Grantmakers. Iterating on this need also led us to create a series of new features for the just-released Foundation Maps Professional 2.0:

  • Area Served: With Foundation Maps Professional 2.0, you can filter grants by geographic area served, enhancing the ability to understand a regional story — whether that region is in the U.S. or in another corner of the world. For example, if a grant is made to an organization based in Atlanta, Georgia, but is for a public health project in India, it will appear on the Area Served map in India, along with grants made to recipients located in India and other grants made to recipients located anywhere but also designated for India.
  • Constellations: Our team also realized that funders are keenly interested in knowing who is and isn't connected within various funding communities, so we kept experimenting with network mapping long after the initial UX work. The result? The new Constellations feature in Foundation Maps Professional 2.0 reveals a broad ecosystem of foundation and recipient relationships that can be filtered by any number of options – for instance, community development grants over $500,000 in the United States or early childhood education in New York City. Or, as in the screenshot above, you can select your own organization and several peers to immediately see the organizations that you fund in common as well as those you support solo.

When it comes to knowledge services, we're going to keep listening to our users, keep striving to improve those services, and keep repeating the process. That's how we learn, and how we can help you visualize the world of philanthropy.

Sign up for a free trial of Foundation Maps Professional 2.0. Tune into our first monthly webinar. And let us know how we can help you use data visualization to explore who is funding what and where.

Lisa Philp is vice president for strategic philanthropy at Foundation Center.

Most Popular PhilanTopic Posts (February 2015)

March 04, 2015

For those of us who live and work in the Northeast, it was cold, really cold, in February. Fortunately, we were too busy serving up great content here on PhilanTopic to notice. So, while you wait for the next winter storm to roll in, pull up a screen and see what you missed....

What have you read/watched/listened to lately that made you think? Share your finds in the comments section below, or drop us a line at mfn@foundationcenter.org.

Doing Good Is About to Get Better

February 05, 2015

Get On The MapAs the president of a regional association, I regularly need to know what funders in my region are supporting and where they are working. Usually, to get that information, my colleagues and I need to make a series of calls, send out emails and surveys, schedule meetings, and do some real sleuthing. And what we continue to end up with is representative of only a small portion of what is really happening around us. Sound familiar?

This lack of data to inform our work is even more problematic when coupled with all the questions and challenges raised by organizations that want to force their interpretation and agendas on that work. Unfortunately, we can't adequately respond because we don't really know who our collective dollars are serving and whether our grantees mirror the communities we are trying to serve. Because we don't have the data that supports the story we want to tell, others continue to write our story for us.

This is particularly important as we struggle with conversations around equity and justice in our communities and as we prepare for a looming conversation around charitable regulation. Philanthropy needs to be able to demonstrate its commitment to the public good by showing that its investments in community development, civic engagement, and social innovation reach across demographic and economic barriers. Given our special status as a tax-advantaged sector, we need to demonstrate that we are accountable and serve the public good.

In an earlier post, you heard from Joyce White, president of Grantmakers of Oregon and Southwest Washington, who shared details of her journey to collect more complete and meaningful data from funders in her region. When the Forum for Regional Associations of Grantmakers and Foundation Center formed a strategic alliance to improve the quality and effectiveness of grantmaking nationwide via data, research, and tools, the successful pilot in Oregon and southwest Washington served as a model for the rest of the country. The first focus of that partnership is a joint campaign to "Get on the Map."

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Traveling Toward Greater Impact

November 13, 2014

Headshot_julie_broomeAnyone who has ever traveled with me – even just across town – knows that I get lost easily. North becomes south, left becomes right. As such, I’ve developed a heavy reliance on maps to tell me where I am and to help me figure out where I'm going. Otherwise, I'll spend a lot of time confidently headed in the wrong direction. That's exactly the value I see in the maps and analysis of human rights grantmaking created by the International Human Rights Funders Group and Foundation Center. They, too, can help those of us in the field of human rights philanthropy establish where we are and think critically about where we are going.

Where are we now?

First, in comparing the maps on the Advancing Human Rights website, it appears that human rights funding increased from $1.2 billion in 2010 to $1.7 billion in 2011. However, an important factor in that increase is that an additional forty-plus funders began submitting their data to the project in 2011. When comparing "like with like" (only including the funders that submitted data for both years), we can see that funding for human rights increased by almost 8 percent.

The geographic distribution of the grants awarded also is interesting. In 2011, human rights funding in support of Eastern Europe, Central Asia, and Russia increased by 28 percent, while funding for the Middle East and North Africa increased by 33 percent. This increase may have been influenced by the Arab Spring in 2011. The initial benchmark research set means that, for the first time, we will be able to track philanthropy's response to the Arab Spring, as well as funding trends with respect to other regions, issues, and populations. This is an exciting development for our field.

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A Case Study in 'Sustainable' Knowledge Management

November 11, 2014

About a year ago, the Oceans and Fisheries team at the Rockefeller Foundation embarked on a new initiative focused on the challenges faced by small-scale fisheries worldwide and on improving the health and well-being of the people who are dependent on these threatened environments. Like any program officer worth his or her salt, the team started its decision-making and strategy-setting process with a couple of fundamental questions: 1) What do we already know about work being done in this field? and 2) How successful has that work been?

Rockfound_fisheries_report_coverBut what Rockefeller did to answer these questions wasn't so typical. With the encouragement of its own evaluation and learning team, along with the technical and methodological support of Foundation Center's IssueLab service and the issue expertise of IMM Ltd., the foundation supported a synthesis review of already existing evaluative evidence that drew on findings from both the academic and "gray" literature — the literally hundreds of evaluations and case studies that had already been done on the topic — to identify and describe twenty key factors believed to influence success in small-scale coastal fisheries management. Throughout the review, the researchers regularly engaged in conversations with Rockefeller's program team, helping to inform the team's developing strategy with existing evidence from the field. The intensive, rapid knowledge gathering effort resulted in a formal report.

After the report was completed, the team could have called it a day...but it didn't. One of the key reasons Rockefeller decided to work with us on this project was IssueLab's focus on capturing and sharing knowledge outcomes as a public good rather than a private organizational asset. Instead of just commissioning a literature review for use by a single organization, the foundation was interested in creating an openly licensed and public resource that anyone could use. The result is a special collection of the hard-to-find literature identified through the review, as well as an interactive visualization of the key lessons summarized in the report itself.

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Most Popular PhilanTopic Posts (October 2014)

November 01, 2014

Lots of good posts here on PhilanTopic in October. Didn't catch them all? No worries. Here's a look back at the posts that were especially popular during the month. Have a post you'd like to share? Drop us a line at mfn@foundationcenter.org.

What have you read/watched/listened to lately that surprised, delighted you, or made you think? Share your finds in the comments section below....

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