Using data to support change. This is one of the goals of our annual State of the Nonprofit Sector Survey. As one of the largest nonprofit data gathering efforts in the sector, Nonprofit Finance Fund's (NFF) Annual Survey supports thousands of nonprofits each year by aggregating their stories into a collective data set that is used by nonprofits, advocates, funders, and reporters to understand the needs and challenges of the sector. And we couldn’t do it without the participation of the thousands of nonprofit leaders that have contributed every year. In this blog, we wanted to share with you the underlying mission driving our Survey activities, and why it matters to the sector.
NFF's Survey Mission
Overall, we have a 3-part mission with the survey. These three aspirations drive all of our activities, from the survey content, to outreach, to how and when we communicate our results.
To provide stakeholders and the public with timely data on trends, challenges, opportunities, and actions in the whole nonprofit sector
NFF's survey is open at the same time every year, from mid January -mid/late February. Once the survey is closed, we work as fast as we can to get the results out to the community, to ensure that they have access to timely data. Our initial results are released no later than the first week of May every year, and often earlier.
To coalesce the nonprofit sector into a data-driven community organizing effort, creating a collective voice and spurring the use of data for change
Because of the nonprofit sector's diversity--in mission, size, business model, geography, and a multitude of other factors--it operates in a decentralized way. Yet we believe that coming together in a collective effort can help magnify what we DO have in common. That's why we work with hundreds of partners-- nonprofit associations, funders, advocates, umbrella organizations, and more-- to get the word out to as many pockets of nonprofit communities as we can. If your region or sector is under-represented in the survey results, please reach out to us for advice about how to spread the word. We have created an outreach kit to help communities share the survey with their own networks.
Data is only as good as how--and if-- it's used. That's why we don't simply release the results and return to business as usual. After release, our staff spends the next 7 months of the year integrating the findings into their daily practices, communicating the results through presentations, and sharing them as widely as possible. We also talk about the results with advocates, government officials, funders, nonprofits, and other practitioners in the field, diving deeper into ways that the data can be used in practice. Below are a few examples. Click here to see more.
- Nonprofit leaders like Cynda Mack, Vice President of the Metropolitan Development Corporation, have used the data to assess whether organizational leadership were on the same page about the strategic direction of the organization. "While taking the survey, I wondered whether the leadership would agree with all of my answers. We are a very diverse group and have been working very hard the last two years on Strategy, Dashboards, Logic Models, Theory of Change, Mission, Vision, Focus, etc. Answering the survey brought many of those exercises together to show a progression of change that made sense. I am hoping that leadership will see their hard work in our agreement on the answers and that we are on the right track to success."
- The National Council of Nonprofits used the data to inform government policy recommendations on the treatment of Indirect Costs.
- Grantmakers can use this dataset to remain responsive to the needs of nonprofits in real time and refine their philanthropic investment strategies.
To provide accessible, data-driven insights that inform discussion and, ultimately, improvements in social sector practices
We work hard to make the data as accessible as we can. As requests for data increased over time, we looked for ways to make it even more accessible. That's why we created the NFF Survey Analyzer, an open tool that allows anyone to filter the data to see results that are most relevant to them. You can filter the whole data set look at state specific results, and much more. If you have any questions about the Analyzer, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org!
Stories from 2014
Below, please check out stories from last year's respondents. We want to hear your story as well. We're proud of the impact our findings have had in past years, but we believe we can do better. Please help us continue our work on behalf of your organization and your peers across the country by contributing your knowledge and encouraging others to do so as well. Click here to take the survey today, and share the link http://nff.org/2015 with your peers and colleagues.
"Nonprofits need to be visible in the communities they serve. Many nonprofits are only heard from when asking for support. The community needs to know that the nonprofit is a part of the community, the good it does, the care with which its leaders use the community's resources and the impact it makes in meeting the needs of the community. A community will support a nonprofit with time, talent and treasure IF the impact the nonprofit is making is known and appreciated as meeting a need in the community."
- Public, Societal Benefit Org, PA
"We are having to adapt programs to meet needs of a younger generation of veterans and one that includes significantly more women."
- Human Services Org, CA
"In the past 6 months... we have been able to secure new and expanded funding both for our core youth programs (restricted grants) and for general operating support from individual donors (major donors). We made the case by first refining our program offerings and getting very clear about our program strategy and what we are trying to do. This clarity has made asking for support, both from foundations and from individuals, much easier and more effective. As for major donors, we made the case by being very honest about our organizational challenges (both financial and programmatic), and sharing our vision of where we want to go. And then cultivating them earnestly - through mail, phone, and direct in-person meetings."
- Education Org, PA
"We initiated development campaigns targeted to specific audiences to support specific pieces of our work and also initiated "friendraisers" at board members' homes where we can talk about what we do and how we need their support."
- Workforce Development Org, MD