Our pro bono work often creates a ripple effect throughout the community. From improved access to resources in low-income communities to creating job opportunities for at-risk youth, addressing a data or process challenge at a charitable nonprofit can have a much farther-reaching impact than we initially anticipate.
Impact Makers offers pro bono consulting, training, and implementation services to charitable nonprofits so that they can take advantage of the same processes and technologies as our for-profit clients, allowing them to better carry out their missions. This donation of our time and technical expertise amplifies the impact of our financial contributions to our community partners.
Our work with nonprofits has brought several common data challenges to light. These challenges include:
- Migration to the cloud
- Proper data management
- Lack of data quality
- Technical expertise of personnel
- Lack of automation
By addressing these issues, we help nonprofits maximize their grant funding. Because what do you need to apply for grants?
Data. Clean data. Data that can be analyzed to identify trends and opportunities.
The best way to illustrate these common data challenges experienced by charitable nonprofits is through a real-life example. We work with nonprofits across multiple industries, but for simplicity, we’ll focus on one of our healthcare partners, Virginia Free & Charitable Clinics (VAFCC).
Common Data Challenges Experienced by Charitable Nonprofits
Poor Data Quality Could Mean Fewer Financial Resources for Nonprofits
Based on our experience, data quality remains the top data challenge that nonprofits experience. Because nonprofits might not have access to as many resources as larger for-profit organizations, data quality can suffer as a result. Incomplete or inaccurate data could result in missed funding opportunities for nonprofits.
For example, the VAFCC supports about fifty clinics, most of which use high school and college volunteers. When nonprofits are already spread thin as patient care is prioritized, allocating the time and resources needed to obtain and retain clean data is challenging.
As the technology infrastructure that might support a large hospital or healthcare clinic isn’t accessible at volunteer-run clinics, they usually have to rely on Excel or Google Sheets to store data. Because the functionalities of these applications are limited, they’re unable to get access to advanced data analytics. It’s also more difficult for these nonprofits to keep up with regulatory concerns since they don’t have the robust auditing systems of larger organizations.
Limited Technical Expertise of Nonprofit Personnel May Prevent Sufficient Mission Progress
The second challenge charitable nonprofits often face is access to personnel with a high level of technical expertise. As many charities don’t have the budget for an IT department, they have to rely on volunteers or interns for their data collection and data entry — and everyone performs the tasks their own way.
Without a structured IT department, it’s difficult to obtain proper documentation and data governance. When a problem arises, there aren’t many resources available to search for a long-term solution. Instead, nonprofits have to rely on other workarounds that may result in loosely documented processes which may cause more issues in the long term than it solves in the short term.
Automation is Woefully Underutilized in the Nonprofit Sector
Another data challenge charitable nonprofits face is the lack of automation. Because there weren’t a lot of data management tools available until recently, automation is largely underutilized by nonprofits. Even if automation tools are available, many personnel don’t have the technical training needed to fully leverage the tools’ value. As a result, volunteers and employees are burdened with tedious work that could be completed faster through automation.
For example, VAFCC conducts annual and quarterly surveys. When the data comes in, not all participants answer every question, resulting in incomplete data. Additionally, not all participants answer the questions in the same format. For instance, if the question is, “How many physicians are working in the clinic?” some people may answer, “None,” while others may say the numeric, “0.” Others may enter a number that is actually formatted as text. This incongruence of data means a lot of cleanup is required before the data can be used, and — up until recently — this cleanup was performed manually. With fifty clinics and around 600 data points collected from the survey, the cleanup became quite overwhelming.
The Crux: Disorganized, Disparate Data Results in Missed Opportunities for Nonprofits
Without clean data, the information gathered cannot be analyzed. And without uncovering trends in the data, a nonprofit can’t maximize the amount of money they receive through grants or make changes needed for long-term sustainability. When the VAFCC lacked accessible, organized data, they didn’t know their eligibility for grants, so they often missed out on funding opportunities. In short, they were spending more time acquiring and organizing the data than actually leveraging it.
Impact Makers’ Data Management Solution for VAFCC
Impact Makers introduced a solution to help VAFCC more effectively and efficiently clean their data so it could start being used to their benefit. We are now working with VAFCC to utilize the Power Platform, a set of tools Microsoft released in their low-code environment. Non-programmers can using the Power Platform to automate their daily tasks. Impact Makers is working with VAFCC to develop solutions to meet their data management requirements utilizing the Azure platform from Microsoft. Once finished, we will give them a playbook of how we developed the solution and teach them to manage it themselves. The goal is for the organization to be self-sufficient as they grasp the solutions we’ve introduced.
One of Impact Makers’ current initiatives with VAFCC is working with them to respond to a survey on how Medicaid has improved the health of the state. Prior to implementing the data cleaning solution we introduced, they likely would not have had access to the required information needed to complete the survey.
The Impact: Maximized Funding, Lower Costs, & Investment in Our Community
The influence of our pro bono work often sparks positive repercussions throughout the community. What starts as an improved data management system turns into expanded access to affordable healthcare, new career opportunities for individuals from underserved communities, and impacts we have not yet recognized.
Clean Data Leads to Increased Grant Funding & Services
The more money we help nonprofits receive in grants, the better they can serve their client base. In the case of the VAFCC, with additional funding, they may be able to stay open for longer hours or even hire additional physicians.
Lowering the Cost of Care Has Community-Wide Impact
A byproduct of our work at VAFCC is keeping the cost of care down in the state of Virginia. If patients don’t go to the Free Clinics, they use the Emergency Department (ED) as their primary care doctor. For example, if a low-income individual comes to the ED because their diabetes is causing complications and they have to stay for several weeks to recover, covering that care costs significantly more than the preventative care and medication they would receive through these clinics. Keeping that patient out of the ED saves the hospital and the state a lot of money.
Investing in Future Generations Can Have an Outsized Impact
We plan to start a program with high schools in low-income communities to hire students interested in coding as interns and teach them the technology we have introduced at VAFCC. This opportunity would allow them to develop several in-demand skills and experiences they could use on college applications or to start their career.
A Way Forward for Virginia Nonprofits
By investing our time and expertise in the community, we’re also amplifying the impact of our financial contributions to nonprofits in the community. If we succeed at our plan, the solutions we’re developing for the Virginia Free & Charitable Clinics will be systematized and rolled out to our other nonprofit partners. Our aim is that, in the future, any nonprofit could use this model to enhance their work.