As your organization works to secure support and strengthen your impact, your efforts often come down to one key element: transparency. A twofold ingredient, transparency is expected externally by donors who seek proof of your results, and internally by your staff to best understand how to drive total impact forward.
Forward-thinking organizations take steps to build this two-pronged transparency. Some of them even create entire employee positions around it.
Pencils of Promise (PoP) is one such example. We chatted with Jaclene Roshan, Director of Transparency and Data innovation at PoP, to learn more about her role, what it entails, and its powerful influence on the organization’s overall success and impact.
The Role of a Director of Transparency and Data Innovation
Roshan oversees all of the organization’s data technology, analysis, and transparency initiatives. Her team works to develop data tracking systems for all departments, and they also provide analysis reporting and visualizations for PoP’s organizational impact. They present these assets to both their supporters and internal staff.
Essentially, this role was born out of a need to aggregate and monitor all of PoP’s data—across their fundraising, marketing, impact, and operations—and communicate it back to the entire team and the wider community. The addition of this position created greater transparency and cohesion between departments, as well as honest and open communication between the organization and its constituents.
With a background in database management, Roshan leveraged her experience to build a team around the organization’s need for greater data distribution. She says,
Our goal is really focusing on the data and making it transparent. We saw that, especially for impact, we needed a way to centralize all of that information. So we’ve built up this team of data analysts and a backend database developer to make all of the data that we are collecting more public.
When Roshan’s team can consolidate this information and make it more “public” not just to their external fundraising community, but to the rest of PoP’s staff, every department can understand how its work is affecting the others. This visibility of the data allows teams to seamlessly communicate with each other, driving greater programmatic results over time. Roshan’s work also enables supporters to see these improvements, understand how the organization is constantly looking to refine and expand its results, and feel confident to commit their support for the long term.
Increasing Transparency Both Internally and Externally
As Roshan’s team surfaces information around their initiatives, they’re responsible for circulating it to both their broader fundraising community and the rest of their staff. They accomplish this through three different reports.
Internal Analysis Report
Roshan’s team compiles the results from each of PoP’s programs into an internally distributed report for their staff. Depending on the recipient, Roshan’s team delivers the version that is best suited for the respective department and its purposes. She explains,
For example, the very, very technical version is applicable to pieces of our development team that are applying for a foundational grant. A more simplified version is sent to our marketing team so they can better talk about those results. An in-between version is what we can share with our teams on the ground so that they can iterate on the program.
Quarterly Transparency Report
The team will launch their first public-facing transparency report in 2016. They will assemble this document to send out to supporters at the end of each quarter. It will give an update on the organization’s new key performance indicators, which focus less on outputs (the activities and programs conducted) and more on outcomes (the actual results of activities and programs).
For example, instead of spotlighting just the number of schools built, the report might detail how many students are demonstrating proficiency in their reading or writing skills.
Lastly, PoP plans to create a data hub on their website so that anyone, be it a supporter or staff member, can access all of PoP’s impact stats in real time. This will be an interactive visual that people can play with to explore the organization’s impact statistics on their own.
Metrics That Define Successful Transparency
While these reports are action items that will increase transparency, their creation isn’t the end goal for Roshan and her team. Rather, she strives to measure and improve the effectiveness of these reports and her team’s workflows in order to continually streamline the way PoP communicates with its constituents and staff.
Because her role aims to enhance transparency both externally and internally, she pays attention to two sets of metrics.
First, she plans to focus on the viewership of the transparency reports and their number of downloads. After all, she wants to make sure that people are accessing this information, and she will eventually track conversion rates from report downloads to committing support. Roshan also intends to measure the effectiveness of these reports by asking for general feedback and gauging how investors receive them. She says,
On a more qualitative side, we’ll be asking people what they think of these reports. We have a few years of data now, and we are beginning to solicit foundations and bigger grants than before. A lot of that is generally only made possible by reporting on your outcomes. So, that’s another metric for success.
Second, Roshan and her team will be measuring their progress by how quickly they can analyze program outcomes and then apply changes to programs for the following school year. The goal is faster transparency between teams for more efficient impact. When Roshan’s team can collect information more swiftly from different departments and initiatives, they can consolidate and circulate it faster to the rest of their staff so everyone can take the appropriate action to improve PoP’s programs. She says,
Because information is collected in three different countries at various points in time, we are tracking the point from which the information gets put into the system, to when an analysis report gets out. We are trying to shorten that length of time.
By tracking her team’s progress alongside these metrics, Roshan can continue to enhance their processes and improve the way they are bringing transparency to the organization.
The Impact of Technology and Data Transparency on PoP
The value of Roshan’s role translates to effective, streamlined internal and external communication, and it empowers PoP to apply the right changes to their programs for bigger impact. None of this could be possible without the right software. The reason Roshan’s title includes both “transparency” and “data innovation” is that the organization leverages sophisticated technology to effectively understand and expand their impact.
By prioritizing their use of data to improve transparency—and creating a position around this need—the organization is able to quantify and communicate the progress they are making toward solving the larger social problem at hand.
“Technology is a game-changer for us because we are taking a very, very complicated issue that is education, and trying to simplify all of that information when it’s not very simple at all.
We are held accountable because we make these promises to show this information externally, and that means we must track it internally now. And then, we have to iterate on our programs with the results that we see.”
The First Step to Greater Transparency
It’s worth noting that a Director of Transparency and Data Innovation may be a more fitting role for organizations that have already built data systems and understand how to effectively track their information. PoP also needed to collect a few years of programmatic data before they could start reporting out on it. They needed to track and aggregate explicit changes and outcomes, not just outputs, that have resulted from their initiatives over time in order to understand the true impact of their programs.
But regardless of whether you’re a startup nonprofit or longstanding organization, Roshan says that the most important first step is centralizing your information.
Centralized systems are the most important thing. When you have information living in a number of different systems, it’s really difficult to eventually aggregate all of it once you want to get up and going with a more advanced CRM.
While you can be thoughtful about how you compile spreadsheets, the most efficient process is to invest in a CRM that automatically pulls your information together, gives you a holistic view of your data, and eliminates the need for data entry and the risk of human error. When you consolidate your information into a single database, you can streamline your operations in a way that powers your growth and positions you to scale.
And by standardizing the way you aggregate and track data across your organization, you can ensure your entire staff is on the same page by empowering them to read, understand, and communicate these insights correctly both to each other and to supporters. This becomes especially important when you have multiple programs around the world, as Roshan attests.
For us, it was a huge effort to dig into certain programs or tracking systems that were completely different for each country. That’s why we are trying to figure out how to talk about our impact on a global scale, and that’s really hard. So I would say that an upfront investment on an information tracking system is really, really important.
The problems that social impact organizations address are often large and complex. Deep-seated issues like hunger and lack of education are so broad in scope that they intersect with many other issues and factors. The only way to understand how far you are actually moving the needle for your cause is to track the holistic impact of your initiatives, and then disperse that information across departments and to your fundraising community.
This requires sophisticated tools and the willingness to make transparency a top priority—which, once you have the resources, can look like creating a position around it. Data-driven organizations that do so can make smart decisions around facts—not guesswork—to make a greater impact on society.