Funding bodies such as the Fredericton Community Foundation and United Way of Central New Brunswick are faced with the unenviable challenge of determining which social programs to support each year. There are multiple factors to consider, including the needs of the community and the efficacy of existing programs. This community impact and program measurement would be much easier to report on if the multiple organisations responsible for delivering these programs collected and reported on the community members being served and issues being addressed in a consistent manner.
Data standardization allows funding bodies to expand their impact to reach the right people and right places through evidence based analysis of community needs. This would enable both the Fredericton Community Foundation and United Way of Central NB to understand more comprehensively how their funding moves the needle in our community for different social issues, as well as recruit donors and funding for issues that are most pressing in our community. Standardizing the data requirements not only improves our funding organizations’ ability to report on community impact, but alleviates the burden of multiple reporting requirements for non-profits, making them better funders overall.
The Research on Data Standardization
Data standardization becomes increasingly important when capturing the disparities within services. A systematic analysis requires clearly defined methods for measurement and collection in order to adequately report on disparities and methods of addressing these gaps in services (Thorlby et al., 2011). This is because differing measurements or lack of reporting leaves space for guessing and assumptions, which results in unclear impact measurement (Thorlby et al., 2011).
Data standards are a key takeaway from the research of the NPO Data Collaboration project, highlighting the essential accountability of funding bodies and policy makers to establish purpose and reason for data collection and analysis. However, with standardization, nonprofits still require autonomy to remain in control of their service delivery and community impact (Thorlby et al., 2011).
Sparking Data Standardization in Community
The two largest funding bodies in our region, the Fredericton Community Foundation and the United Way of Central NB, have had open discussions with the NPO Data Collaboration Team on standardizing their reporting requirements of their funding applications.
The process of standardizing data requirements is something that the Fredericton Community Foundation had always dreamed of doing. Discussions with the Non-Profit Data Collaboration project, in tandem with federal COVID-19 community support funding, were the tipping point for putting those dreams into action.
Similarly, The United Way of Central NB made changes to their data standards after the federal government’s emergency COVID-19 funding was implemented. Seeing the federal data standards set new parameters for the right kind of questions to ask in order to compare with national data, as well as data being collected by the Fredericton Community Foundation.
Data standards simply meant having agreed upon categories of focus for projects and outputs, and standardized demographic definitions and categories. This created comparable project impact across organizations and at a national level, through the lens of food security, for example, age breakdown, or underrepresented and vulnerable groups.
Accessible reporting on community needs & impact:
Collaboration between funding organizations:
Community wide impact:
By implementing these standards for the COVID-19 Emergency Community Support Fund applications, the United Way of Central NB was able to run multiple reports illustrating what was being done in the community, what underrepresented and vulnerable groups were being serviced, and how much support each group was receiving. This was not possible in the past because it would have required combing through the narrative aspects of the applications, which was very time intensive.
The process of data standardization has ensured that both funding organizations are collaboratively funding local non-profit organizations and projects that will generate the most community impact. This is valuable to both organizations because they can avoid any possible overlap in the provision of resources and expand their impact to the people and places that need it most.
In previous years, the Fredericton Community Foundation and United Way of Central NB would compile their data for a joint year end community impact report. However, because the funding organizations were collecting different data points, this reporting process was not sustainable. By standardizing the demographics data requirements and categories for underrepresented and groups made to be vulnerable that the funded projects address, larger community impact measurement is possible.
Feedback from the Non-Profit Community
By standardizing their data requirements, the Fredericton Community Foundation and United Way of Central NB have been able to create a funding application that requires similar information, which is more accessible to non-profits receiving and applying for funding from both organizations by not having differing application and reporting requirements for the same work.
To ensure that these new data standardization requirements are being effectively communicated to the non-profits, application guides have been created. The guides are available on the organizations’ website and allows agencies to view a full copy of the application before entering the portal. Most importantly, these guides explain why the funding organizations have specific data requirements and how they have changed, and provide helpful tips for differentiating between outputs (standardized between funding bodies and federal measurements) and outcomes (still narrative based).
Fredericton Community Foundation
United Way of Central NB
Non-profits have communicated the need to modify application requirements to reflect how much data is required based on resources provided. For example, an applicant requesting $5,000 in funding would have fewer data parameters to collect and report on than an applicant requesting $100,000. This would ensure that adequate resources are provided for the additional work required to meet data management requirements, thereby maximizing community impact without overburdening non-profits with excessive data requirements and allowing them to still prioritize the community services that they provide every day.
Non-profits have expressed positive feedback since standardizing their data collection measures, requiring non-profit agencies to simply check the boxes of their outputs for their funding applications. They have since received feedback that their applications are much easier to fill out and organizations are shocked at how simple the data collection process is. They have also found success in altering their applications slightly to meet the capacity needs of varying communities.
Thorlby, R., Jorgensen, S., Siegel, B. & Ayanian, J. (2011). How healthcare organizations are using data on patients’ race and ethnicity to improve quality of care. The Milbank Quarterly. Vol. 89, Iss. 2. 226-255.