By Emma Ramsbottom, Learning & Impact Strategy Manager, Greater Twin Cities United Way
Greater Twin Cities United Way leverages insights and data in a variety of ways to inform our work and to understand and tell the story of its impact — particularly at the “intersections of impact,” where multiple change strategies and issue areas converge to create powerful and promising results, such as leveraging 211 resource helpline data to support our advocacy efforts around eviction reform.
Reflecting on our experiences using data to shape strategy and effect change in 2021, we recently convened nonprofit partners and donors to learn about United Way’s data-driven social change work and to highlight recommendations for how funders can promote a more equitable relationship with data.
At our latest Community Connection Series, I was joined by Ann Gaasch of FamilyWise and Stephanie Malone of Appetite for Change for a discussion on how our organizations are leveraging data in new ways to drive strategy and impact.
Strategy Powered by Data and Community Insights
As United Way becomes an increasingly multi-faceted community impact organization, our Learning & Impact Strategy team ensures that all of our “levers of change” — 211 resource helpline and Suicide Prevention Lifeline, nonprofit partnerships, innovation and advocacy — are driven by and yield useful data. Our organization’s commitment to leveraging data is guided by three key strategies:
- We understand and document progress against our guiding long-term outcomes in Household Stability, Educational Success and Economic Opportunity, to illuminate what programs and initiatives are working and for whom.
- We source ongoing insights from community that shape our community impact strategy design, keeping us responsive to emerging needs and fueling continuous process improvement.
- We tell an impact story about our work, with emphasis on work that transcends multiple change strategies and issue areas.
United Way is particularly well-positioned to zoom out and identify themes that knit our many data sources together into a broader tapestry of impact. This unique vantage point wouldn’t be possible without the data and insights our partners share with us.
Our nonprofit partners are committed to leveraging data to understand what’s working and for whom in their programs and initiatives. FamilyWise, a nonprofit partner in early childhood education, strengthens families by promoting the safety, stability and well-being of children. As Ann from FamilyWise shared, “We actually owe it to families….Sometimes [the] things you think are going to make a difference aren’t the right levers to be pulling, and we might spin our wheels if we don’t actually look at our results with a critical eye and make sure we’re reaching the goals that we promised.”
Appetite for Change, a United Way nonprofit partner in food security and former partner in United Way’s Full Lives North Minneapolis innovation initiative, uses food as a tool to build health, wealth and social change. They bring a data justice lens to their data gathering efforts and are led by the perspectives and insights of their participants. For this community-centered organization, understanding impact is important “not only because we want to be good stewards of the funds that are given to our organization, but that we are doing right by community,” said Stephanie.
Telling a Complex Impact Story
“Success isn’t something that we’re done with. It’s something we’re all working toward,” remarked Ann. FamilyWise takes a whole family approach and recognizes that parents don’t parent in a vacuum — stresses caused by economic insecurity have ripple effects among parents and children. “Not everyone is willing to tolerate the complexity of the stories and to recognize that success isn’t just something you wake up one morning and achieve. We often have to address multiple areas of impact within a family in order to have them achieve their ideas of success and for us as a community to achieve success,” said Ann.
At Appetite for Change, sharing progress toward larger end goals also involves highlighting stories of successes in addition to metrics. “You [Greater Twin Cities United Way] have allowed us the opportunity and flexibility to honor those stories and to tell more than a metric — but to put a human being behind the numbers,” said Stephanie.
By leveraging ongoing insights and data from our community, United Way is continually updating our strategies and approaches to best serve our community while finding new and creative ways to show impact.