“What are your results?” and “What is your impact?” are questions that nonprofit leaders have probably been asked and answered a hundred times. After all, that is the purpose of nonprofits: to contribute to the solution of societal problems. Gone are the days when nonprofits were simply trusted that they were doing what they said they would do. Now, the requirement is to actually show your results.
A common mistake that I’ve seen nonprofits leaders make when communicating their results or impact is that they place too much emphasis on one type of data.
Either they report quantitative data such as the number of program participants, demographic data, volunteer hours, dollars raised, etc. Or they only share qualitative data such as poignant stories of individuals whose lives have been improved after working with their organization.
Quantitative data addresses questions about “who, what, and how many?” This is especially useful when you need/want to provide a “just the facts” overview of your program. On the other hand qualitative data addresses the “why?” behind the data. Qualitative data allows you to capture the rich experience of participants and provides you with insight that cannot be gleaned from quantitative data.
A compelling story from program participants of how your program changed their life will draw your audience in, but it should be coupled with quantitative data about all participants. Conversely, avoid relying solely on quantitative data. People need to feel the heart and soul behind your work and qualitative data allows them to do that more easily.
Here’s an example of how this might play out. Let’s say a nonprofit has a mission to address food insecurity in your community by providing free lunch and dinner each day. In the past month, due to budget constraints, the team has opted for a more cost effective food supplier. However, the team has also noticed that since they started with the new vendor, there has been a 30% decrease in the number of people showing up for a meal each week. This 30% decrease is certainly a cause for concern.
However, without qualitative data to explain why the decrease has happened, the team could only make educated guesses. That is until a volunteer has the idea to talk with families to understand what may have changed for them in the past month. And, after a few conversations a clear pattern emerges: people feel that the quality of the food has reduced greatly. While this organization isn’t sure where those 30% are now going, but you do know they likely aren’t showing up because the food isn’t that great. Now that they are equipped with qualitative and quantitative data, they are better equipped to make an appeal for additional funding.
Their request might look something like this, “ For the past year, our organization has helped ensure that each month, approximately 500 families in our community have at least two meals per day. However, in recent months, funding cuts have meant that we needed to switch to a more cost effective food supplier. In the past month, since switching to the new supplier, we’ve seen a 30% reduction in the number of families coming in for meals. After talking with families, we learned that one thing had changed in the past month: they felt the quality of the food had decreased substantially. This means that instead of serving 500 families each month, we’re only serving 350. Over the course of a year this means that 1,800 families are potentially going hungry. We’re asking for your financial support to help us switch back to our previous supplier so we can help make sure our community continues to be fed.”
As the example above demonstrates, it’s important for nonprofits to share quantitative and qualitative data. Depending on your program goals, one data type may be better than the other, but both are needed to present a complete picture of your program.
What type of data does your non-profit collect? How can I help you determine what data will communicate your story most effectively?