The DataViz Extravaganza, Part 2

Visualizations Don’t Equal Truth

This week’s Story By Numbers podcast is so awesome, Ruth and I split it into two parts. This post includes Part 2. Listen to Part 1 here: The DataViz Extravaganza, Part 1.

For this episode of Story By Numbers, we are honored to have Johanna Morariu and Ann Emery of Innovation Network as our guests. We had a wonderful discussion about Data Visualization – DataViz for you cool kids.

This is a huge topic, and it can be intimidating if you’re unfamiliar with the language, but Johanna and Ann reframed the issues in user friendly terms. Some of the major topics covered in Part 2 include:

  1. Lousy data infect good data. Johanna and Ann recommend collect less data (the biggest surprise to me!) and focusing on quality over quantity. They also believe that simple software like Microsoft Excel is best for most small nonprofits. If you really want to dig into software, however, Innovation Network has a great resource: Software for Nonprofit Evaluation and Case Management.
  2. Fit your graphics to the audience and purpose. You may need to compromise on the most “correct” way of displaying data to make it accessible to your target audience. Don’t forget no/low tech options such as having audience members color in bar charts or creating a social network map with markers and string.
  3. A really great viz isn’t great if no one uses it.
  4. Visualizations do not = truth!!! An important point. It is very possible to manipulate data visualizations. As designers, we need to be careful to present information in an unbiased manner that does not lead the audience to unwarranted conclusions.
  5. Embrace and use workaday vizualizations. If you’re just presenting to staff at a planning session, you can save yourself a lot of time and money by using a draft version of a chart. Save the most polished work for broader audiences and marketing.

For more detail on these points, check out Johanna’s presentation from the Nonprofit Technology Conference, Picturing Your Data Is Better Than 1,000 Numbers.

To stay up to date on all the Story by Numbers podcasts, be sure to subscribe in iTunes.

The DataViz Extravaganza, Part 1

This week’s Story By Numbers podcast is so awesome, Ruth and I split it into two parts. This post includes Part 1. Part 2 is available here: The DataViz Extravaganza, Part 2.

For this episode of Story By Numbers, we are honored to have Johanna Morariu and Ann Emery of Innovation Network as our guests. We had a wonderful discussion about Data Visualization – DataViz for you cool kids.

This is a huge topic, and it can be intimidating if you’re unfamiliar with the language, but Johanna and Ann reframed the issues in user friendly terms. Some of the major topics covered in Part 1 include:

  1. What is DataViz? Any method of putting data into a visual form can be considered DataViz, from the humble pie chart to complex infographics.
  2. How do I decide what type of chart to use? Just switching your default from a pie chart to a bar chart is good first step. For complex data, Johanna shared her favorite web resources:

To hear Part 2, be sure to come back Thursday or subscribe in iTunes.

Pinterest for Nonprofits: It’s Not Just for Knitters Anymore

This episode of the Story by Numbers Podcast features Ruth and I talking about the latest social media darling, Pinterest. Despite it’s reputation as a hangout for crafters, Pinterest is a great place for nonprofits and other socially conscious organizations to find new audiences. In this podcast, Ruth and I cover:

  1. Why the Pinterest user is an ideal donor prospect.
  2. How to get started on Pinterest and why it’s the most user friendly social media site for busy professionals.
  3. Using Pinterest to raise awareness… and money.

We use many examples of organizations that are doing great work integrating Pinterest into their messaging. To find those examples, take a look at the Story By Numbers board. Listen to the podcast in the player below or subscribe in iTunes to catch all future episodes.

Story By Numbers, Episode 4: DVQ Studios Designs a Beautiful, Accessible Report

Today’s Story by Numbers podcast features an interview with Emily Stoddard Furrow of DVQ Studio. DVQ is a design firm that works with nonprofit and for-profit organizations with a social purpose. They have tons of experience helping tell complex stories in ways that are accessible to members of the public, potential donors, and community stakeholders.

In this interview we focus on a report DVQ designed and wrote for Roofs to Roots, the local coalition to end homelessness in Grand Rapids, MI. The report talked about a very complex issue – the ways that the costs of housing and the costs of transportation together affect homelessness. You might want to download it for reference while listening to the interview.

The major action points Emily shared with Ruth and me are:

  1. Plan your communication at the beginning of a project. The questions you ask, and the research you do might be completely different.
  2. Think in spreads when writing a report. I love that each open page of the Housing and Transportation study explains a single concept. This makes it very easy to skim, put down, and come back to later. It took a lot of work to do this, but the results are worthwhile.
  3. Have an intent – a “call to action” – for your report. What do you want people to know or do when they read?

This interview contains so many practical tips, I can’t even summarize them all. Be sure to listen here or subscribe in iTunes to catch all future episodes.

Why Federal Funding Changes Mean You Need Evaluation

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In this video, I talk about some changes in federal funding that have affected one of my clients, as well as many other programs like Head Start. The Obama Administration is putting a greater emphasis on evaluation and accountability and that probably isn’t going to change, no matter who is President in January 2013.

This matters for small and mid-sized nonprofits even if you receive no federal or state money. Because trends trickle down, I expect that individual donors and small private and community foundations will soon be expecting a higher standard of evidence showing that programs are successful.

This is a controversial topic, with lots of unknowns and scary monsters hiding in closets. However, the positive take away is that there is time to work on your performance measurement and evaluation systems. You’re not in this alone.

Can Evaluation Help Change Your Organization’s Culture?

Often when small and mid-sized nonprofit organizations think about evaluation, it stands out as something that they would like to do, but can’t afford. Other times program evaluation is something they only do when a funder requires it. I recently came across an article that asks nonprofits to think about the ways that evaluation can be a benefit to their programs and change their organizational culture.

Fact: Performance Measures Increase Revenues and Improve Morale shares the results of a study by Measurement Resources Company exploring how nonprofits use evaluation results. It turns out that evaluation can help organizations:

  • Increase organizational efficiency
  • Use data to lead effective organizational change
  • Communicate with external and internal stakeholders
  • And the Holy Grail of them all, Increase Revenues

Of course, much more than just evaluation data is needed to lead change, but this study definitely makes the case that “we can’t afford it” is no longer a good reason to avoid evaluation.

Personal Change Day: Outsource One Thing

The 2012 Nonprofit Employment Trends Survey shows that for the first time in a while, nonprofits are planning on doing some hiring. 43% of respondents say that they are going to hire new positions in the following year.

Generally, organizations hire new employees because their current employees are stretched to the max. I personally work with program and executive directors who work 50 hours in a slow week. During grant reporting periods, that may be 60 or 70 hours.

If that sounds like your life, it may be time to consider why you’re still:

  • Mowing your lawn
  • Shopping for your own groceries
  • Ironing your own shirts

Sure, most people in the nonprofit sector are under paid compared to their for-profit colleagues, but it may be time to look at personal outsourcing. For $10 to $20 per week, you may be able to free up 2 or 3 hours of time, decrease your stress level, and have more energy to give to your family or even your job.

Here are a few possible action steps for you to take this weekend:

  1. Look around the neighborhood to find a teenager who will mow your lawn. Unless you have a huge yard, $10 or $20 a week will cover this.
  2. Consider more efficient ways to purchase groceries or cook. Many grocery stores now offer online ordering with curbside pickup for a small fee. Cooking meals in large batches can save a lot of time over the course of a week.
  3. Find a laundry service in your area that does laundry by the pound. You may be able to have your work clothes washed, dryed, ironed and folded for under $20 a week.

These are just a few suggestions for places to start. As a busy world saver, you can definitely use some outside help to manage the more mundane tasks in your life. You can probably get that help for less money than you imagined.

Are you using these strategies or any of your own? Please share them with all of us in the comments below.

photo by: Tobyotter

Hope Has No Place in a Theory of Change

In a previous post, I briefly explained How to Create a Theory of Change. You can read in more detail on that post, but the three main steps are:

  1. Desired Change Assumptions
  2. Actions
  3. Results & Reflection

Recently, Matt Forti wrote Six Pitfalls To Avoid in Developing Your Theory of Change, in which he describes some issues he has run across in his word. One point he makes resonated especially well for me:

Confusing accountability with hope. A theory of change must clarify what results a nonprofit will hold itself accountable for achieving; in other words, what results must it deliver to be successful. Defining results in this way will force your organization to get real about the impact you are signing up to create, not just what you hope will happen. While dreaming big and setting lofty goals, such as ending world hunger, can inspire your stakeholders, these are better left for your mission statement rather than your theory of change.

This is something that I have also come across in my nonprofit career. The sector is full of wonderful World Savers with great intentions, but they sometimes fall short in realism and linear thinking! If nonprofit organizations want to be successful, they need to craft programs and guiding theories of change that are grounded in realistic – if difficult to achieve – goals and action plans.

What Is Evaluation?

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In this video, I give my very brief definition of nonprofit program evaluation. In my view, evaluation is not:

  1. Financial auditing
  2. Magic

Other definitions that I talk about are:

  • The American Evaluation Association’s definition: “Evaluation involves assessing the strengths and weaknesses of programs, policies, personnel, products, and organizations to improve their effectiveness.”
  • An unattributed definition: “Evaluation = Research + Valuing”

My definition is much more simple:

Evaluation is measuring progress towards program goals.

In future videos, I will show how we all engage in evaluation daily and how beginning to evaluate your nonprofit’s programs is not nearly as scary as you might think!

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