Change InSight Initiative Relies on Data to Help Nonprofits Determine Programming Needs
Nonprofits have long been expected to produce quick results with little resources. Now, the demand for innovative solutions to decades-long issues presents new challenges to the field. So, how can organizations with limited funding and thin margins address the root causes of issues and have a ripple effect on the clients they serve? The answer may lie in data.
The next generation of philanthropists are becoming increasingly strategic in their giving, and they want to see the real-life impact of their dollars. One way nonprofits can demonstrate impact is through data. Data can help evaluate programs and show proof of the need for new services, helping nonprofits build an airtight case for support to donors.
In fact, University of Texas at Austin researchers wrote in 2018 that data is creating an “evolutionary shift” in philanthropy, with data becoming increasingly viewed by the philanthropic community “as the fuel for innovation and social change.” Massive charitable organizations, such as Bloomberg Philanthropies and the Rockefeller Foundation, are likewise investing in data in their pursuits to make the world a better place.
The power of data is real, and I saw it firsthand within my organization, the Chinese American Service League (CASL), when launching our annual social determinants of health survey to evaluate the wellbeing of our clients in Chicago’s Chinatown community. As the largest social service provider for Asian Americans in the Midwest, it’s our responsibility to meet the needs of those we serve. Knowing that the Asian American Pacific Islander (AAPI) population is largely underrepresented or misrepresented in data due to the grouping of more than 50 ethnicities into one monolithic population, we began our pursuit of organization-administered data collection and data-informed practice.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, we recognized that seniors in our community were struggling with food insecurity and implemented a senior meals program. In our first social determinants of health survey, data confirmed food insecurity among seniors in our community, so, armed with that data, we cemented the senior meals program as a permanent program. While the power of data is clear to our organization, and many others in the philanthropic world, it isn’t a magic bullet.
As the value of data is increasingly adopted across the philanthropic world, we must be mindful of the digital divide. More established organizations are utilizing their greater resources to collect more data, which fuels further success. Meanwhile, nonprofits and organizations lacking resources are left behind because they have fewer tools to secure more funding.
This gap in philanthropy is disproportionately harming underserved populations. For example, an Asian Americans Pacific Islanders in Philanthropy study published last year found that just $0.20 of every $100 awarded by foundations is directed to AAPI communities. While a myriad of factors are at play, access to data is a critical factor throttling funding. After our success shifting to a data-informed practice, we knew we could assist other nonprofits in doing the same.
In spring 2022, we launched a new initiative, called Change InSight, to empower other nonprofit organizations with social determinants of health data specific to their communities. This first-of-its-kind initiative can be incredibly impactful for AAPI and other immigrant communities struggling to amplify their communities' voices to funders and elected officials, who are asking for quantitative data to support the qualitative stories of community needs.
Change InSight partners with community nonprofit organizations and teaches them to collect social determinants of health data through the empathetic survey collection method — collecting data through conversations rather than simply handing out a survey. Data collected from the social determinants of health surveys are entered into the Change InSight platform. Next, our data analysts review the data and provide the organization with an evaluated report unique to that community — all at no cost to the partnering organization.
Then, Change InSight works directly with the organization to help them understand the story their data is telling, and trains the partner organization on how to use the data to identify funding sources, advocate for policy change with legislators, and identify areas where they may be able to collaborate with other organizations to meet the needs of their communities.
Data-informed practices are here to stay and will only grow in importance. But it’s especially critical for nonprofits and social service organizations who work with underserved populations, as they are most at risk of falling behind even further as they strive to meet their clients’ and communities’ needs. It’ll take all of us working together to build the data infrastructure necessary to meet the current moment. While data will shine the spotlight on many issues currently invisible to changemakers, it’s not a holistic solution, and can be unattainable for underfunded nonprofit organizations. Through data initiatives like Change InSight, we can empower under-resourced nonprofits with data to make impactful change in marginalized and immigrant communities across the country.
Paul Luu is the CEO of the Chinese American Service League (CASL). Drawing from 20 years of nonprofit management and leadership, organizational practices and trainings, and nonprofit best practices, Paul works to strengthen CASL’s resources and development, board governance and development, and strategic planning to better serve the greater Chicagoland area. Prior to leading CASL, Paul revitalized the Vietnamese Association of Illinois, spent a decade with the Boys & Girls Clubs of America in many different leadership capacities, and worked with various Chicago neighborhoods to help build and restore clubs to serve thousands of underprivileged youth.