Data can show us the path to improvement

Data can show us the path to improvement

Posted on November 07, 2012 by Pam Truitt

Some of you might remember that I came out of the urban planning field, where data is routinely used to develop community-based plans and policies.

When I joined The Patterson Foundation's team as an Initiative Consultant, one of my first challenges was to understand the local nonprofit community. I began asking questions: How many nonprofits are in the various sectors—arts, human services, animal welfare, environment, etc. What do they do?

What I learned is that there was no ‘go-to’ source to find this out.

Fast forward to September 2012, when the first annual report from The Giving Partner (TGP) was published. What is The Giving Partner? First, it is a distinctive partnership between four local foundations in our region of Southwest Florida. Second, its purpose is to create a platform to promote transparency in the nonprofit sector by helping donors and funders make more informed decisions about giving.

For data geeks like me, TGP is a terrific data source. The site has been operational for about 10 months and now includes just under 300 nonprofit profiles (in a four-county area). Note: We are an area rich in resources and as a result, have a large number of nonprofits. Last count, 1,788 were registered in Sarasota County alone. When you add Manatee, Charlotte and Desoto counties, the total is probably around 4,000.

The report includes a number of data points, so let’s start with the first one that caught my attention….

More than half (55%) of organizations with profiles have operating budgets that are $1 million or less. 

What this data says is that a large number of small nonprofits are trying to provide valued programs with partial support systems. Intrinsically, I know that while small is beautiful, the ability for social impact and scale is limited. And if delivering programs is the lifeblood of nonprofits, that’s where their focus is.

So, what happens to the other organizational components—i.e. the back office? Most of the nonprofit leaders that talk with us say that they cannot afford the kind of back-office systems they need. Likely, the executive director wears many hats leading to general knowledge in most subjects, but expertise in none. A bookkeeper is hired when a CPA is needed. A board member offers to design and manage the website, but only does so when he/she has downtime. An organization that serves children has tremendous HR needs, but cannot afford them.

Are there opportunities for nonprofits to do the back office better? We think so and have lots of examples.

So how do you address those pesky administrative requirements? HR? Finance? IT?

  • Learn about these and other concepts used in TPF's approach to philanthropy.


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