The Nonprofit Hero Factory: Episode 25

How to Use Data to Increase Your Nonprofit’s ROI, with Alexandra Mannerings

In this Episode:

One of the key roles of nonprofits is to channel resources—time, money and voice—to communities in need. We work hard to get people to trust us with those resources. So how do we make sure to then allocate them as effectively as we can to do the greatest good? The answer is likely in our data.

Alexandra Mannerings is a data scientist blending human wisdom and values with the insights and knowledge of science to help amplify the impacts of nonprofits. We talk to her about what data can do for nonprofits, where to start (even if you have never considered using analytics and don’t have any background in data science and analytics), and how to make sure you’re using it to steer you in the right direction.

Listen to this Episode

[00:00:19.210] – Intro Video
Welcome to the Nonprofit Hero Factory, a weekly live video broadcast, and podcast. Where we’ll be helping nonprofit leaders and innovators create more heroes for their cause and a better word for all of us. Da-Ding!

[00:00:20.660] – Boris
Hi, everybody, welcome back to the Nonprofit Hero Factory. I’m excited for our guest today who is going to be talking to us about nonprofit data analytics and decision making, two things that are near and dear to my heart as a geek myself. The alternative title that I had for this episode when she and I were talking earlier was “The End of This is How We’ve Always Done it”. Let me introduce Alexandra Mannerings.

[00:00:48.440] – Boris
She is the founder of an analytic education and consulting company, Merakinos, who helps social enterprises and nonprofits harness the power of data. She earned her PhD in veterinary science epidemiology from the University of Cambridge, UK and a Bachelor of Science in Biology from Emory University. She has also run the data center at a State Hospital Association, rowed for the Light Blues, built trails across Colorado parks and is currently raising two spirited toddlers. Being the show that we are, I ask everybody what her superpower is, and Alexandra said it is blending human wisdom and values with the insights and knowledge of science to help amplify the impacts of nonprofits.

[00:01:35.230] – Boris
With that, let me bring on Alexandra Mannerings.

[00:01:40.120] – Alexandra Mannerings
Thank you so much for having me today, Boris.

[00:01:43.060] – Boris
Thanks for coming on. Alexandra, I stuttered a little bit through your bio, which is all the more reason to say, hey, Alexandra, what’s your story?

[00:01:51.190] – Alexandra Mannerings
Thank you so much. My story is a bit of a winding journey. I like seeing where I came from academically because I like pointing out that analytics doesn’t have to be a computer science technical path. I am a scientist who works with data. I’m not a data scientist. I can’t code in Python to save my life. But I know how to ask impactful questions of data, and I use tools that empower me to do that without having to learn to code.

[00:02:16.000] – Alexandra Mannerings
So I come to nonprofits because I really believe that analytics is one of the most powerful tools we have to make sure we are good stewards of our resources as nonprofits and that we have the biggest possible impact in what we’re trying to do.

[00:02:34.740] – Boris
I think that’s an amazing mission that you’re on, but how did you make the transition from veterinary science to data analytics for nonprofits?

[00:02:45.000] – Alexandra Mannerings
Right? So I did actually want to go into public health. So I wanted to work in global health. I wanted to be an Epidemic Intelligence Service Officer. Got to the states and found out that having a foreign degree was challenging when you wanted to work in the very rule-bound space of government. So they would say, “Well, you know, you have this foreign degree. We want to see an American looking transcript. Can you provide that?” And notwithstanding that, Newton was an alumni of some of the same school I went to. I had trouble proving that I had the credentials that they wanted to see.

[00:03:18.750] – Alexandra Mannerings
So I sort of had to flounder around to find how I was going to put the skills of asking questions to use. And when I ended up in my first job, I found out that I could ask questions of a computer data set just as easily as I could of field research stuff. And that started me on my path of realizing just how powerful analytics is for everybody, not just scientists. And along that journey ended up starting a family, wanting to explore a new space.

[00:03:50.220] – Alexandra Mannerings
And so after 10 years not as an entrepreneur, I felt that I’d finally reached a point of wanting to go my own direction and figuring out how I could help as many organizations as possible, not just the one I was employed to. And it felt less like a leap into starting my own business and more of a culmination step. Right? I built all these skills, all of these relationships. I had tried and failed and tried again and had learned ways of doing things and wanted to bring those to bear to the nonprofits who needed them out there.

[00:04:19.080] – Alexandra Mannerings
And so, yes, well, veterinary medicine feels like it’s very far away from what I’m doing now. I think it’s just a different expression of the same research skills.

[00:04:29.430] – Boris
And so you created Merakinos and you and I had a conversation about this earlier, but why don’t you share with us how did you come up with that name? What does that mean?

[00:04:38.310] – Alexandra Mannerings
Yes. So that was probably the hardest part of starting my own business was what I was going to call it, because you need a domain. And turns out all the domains of normal names are taken, let alone having to file your LLC and all of that. And so I decided, well, I’m creating this hybrid organization, one that really respects and honors the values that we bring as humans and understands that we can use data and analytics to offset our weaknesses.

[00:05:03.900] – Alexandra Mannerings
And I took two Greek words that reflected that, that haven’t existed in a word together yet before I came up with it. So, “Meraki” is a Greek word that talks about doing something with all your heart and soul and even leaving a little bit of yourself behind in that endeavor. And then “Nos” is the root from our word “Cognate” like, “Cognos” and “Nos” means that deductive logic, the physical facts of the world. And so bringing those together. Right, doing something with all your heart and soul and that cognitive logic.

[00:05:32.280] – Alexandra Mannerings
I like to think that you could translate Merakinos, if it were a real Greek word, to mean like soulful logic or heartfelt knowledge.

[00:05:40.060] – Boris
That’s pretty awesome. So let’s then get into what it is that you do and how you help organizations and what, frankly, everybody listening to this show can learn from your work. So what do you see as the current state of data analytics in nonprofits?

[00:05:59.550] – Alexandra Mannerings
So I find that it usually, not for everybody, but for many nonprofits, especially within the small to mid-sized ones out there, falls into two camps. One is “I’m too busy to even try to figure this out,” so it doesn’t exist. Or “That’s just for donors.” “That’s just for our development branch.” And I actually heard from one person in a nonprofit I was working with, “oh, well we’re foundation-funded. We have a set funding that comes in so we don’t have to worry about analytics.”

[00:06:28.240] – Alexandra Mannerings
And I totally understood where he was coming from. And it made me take a step back to think about, well, wait, right, everyone thinks about analytics from how am I going to segment my donors? How am I going to test the effectiveness of my latest mailer? But for me as a scientist, I realized that we’ve kind of missed that mark in realizing that analytics needs to be as fundamental as HR or as having, you know, a cash flow strategy.

[00:06:54.250] – Alexandra Mannerings
Data underpins all of the efforts that we have anywhere in our organization, whether it is in hiring, whether it’s a determining program evaluation, whether it is in fundraising, and seeing if you’re doing that effectively. Whether it’s in your marketing strategy, whether it’s in anything you’re trying to accomplish effectively, analytics should be part of that. So whether you feel you’re too busy to get it started or whether you feel it doesn’t apply, both of those aren’t quite the right way to think about analytics.

[00:07:22.930] – Boris
I think that’s a common problem with nonprofit organizations, especially the smaller ones. But really all the way up through the top where they’re so focused on the work that they’re doing on the ground, if you will, that they don’t want to pull resources and buy resources, including human capital, from those tasks to the more back-office kinds of things which they associate analytics with. But when it comes to, like you talking about the person that you were speaking with from a nonprofit that was foundation-funded. If the foundation is doing its work well, it always asks for results. Results from your programing. How do they know that their money is working?

[00:08:06.950] – Boris
And I think that’s the same question that most donors out there in the world want to know, too. That sure, it feels good to give to your organization. But how do I know that yours is the best organization to give it to? That my money is being spent well and wisely, that I’m not just putting something out there in hopes that it’s doing good.

[00:08:26.270] – Alexandra Mannerings
Yeah, and I would actually like to challenge us even further that we shouldn’t want to know that what we’re doing is working just to tell our donors that. Right? We ourselves shouldn’t be satisfied with the work that we’re doing unless we know it’s working. And that goes back to “the end of how you’ve always done things,” right? That we oftentimes have done things because it resonates emotionally with us or because that’s what we’ve always done. Right, when I was at Cambridge, two reasons things happen: because that’s how they’ve done it for eight hundred years or because of health and safety.

[00:08:59.120] – Alexandra Mannerings
And I think that for us to take a step back and actually challenge ourselves, like, why do we lead our Monday mornings the way that we lead them? If you have your Monday stand-ups, like, “is that actually the most effective way of empowering your team?” “How do you know that?” I mean, really just starting to turn that question around and asking ourselves, why do we do this and how do we know that it’s accomplishing the thing that we think it’s accomplishing?

[00:09:25.340] – Boris
Absolutely. You know, the expression “that which is measured grows.” If you’re not measuring your current performance in your current impact, whatever it might be, then how do you know if it’s growing or not? Aside from feeling like or seeing that there’s more coming in or going out in one way or another, how do you know that it’s the most effective way? Right? These are all the things that I talk about as well. And I want to hear from your perspective. So what’s…

[00:09:56.040] – Boris
Let me back up for a second. Change is difficult. Change is scary. And you’re asking nonprofits, those that aren’t already deeply steeped in this philosophy, to take a radical step for them of reallocating some of their hard-earned resources to analyzing how things are going and working. And then rightly, as you just said, to reconsider some of the things that they’re doing. That’s big and scary. Let’s try to break it down for them a little bit and talk about what’s the first thing that they need to know or think about when applying analytics.

[00:10:42.790] – Alexandra Mannerings
I agree. It is a big, scary task and I think breaking it into chunks and realizing you aren’t going to eat the whole whale in one go. You got to take steps and those individual steps will give you rewards. So it’s not that you’re not going to get value until you finish this journey. You will get value at every step of the way and you will learn important things at every step of the way. So every little step you can take, even if it’s one step and then it’s six months before you can take the next step, that’s fine.

[00:11:10.300] – Alexandra Mannerings
Every step you take is important. So don’t feel like you have to do this whole massive journey all at once and you don’t have to change how you do everything all at once. Ask one question of one thing you’re doing. Measure it, improve it. One thing. And then, add another one and then add another one. Right? And you can do it that way. And I think that one of the places that you can start asking yourself a question, that’s a deep question. But at the end is actually a simple question to ask…

[00:11:38.200] – Alexandra Mannerings
Are what you’re currently measuring? Are they outputs or are they outcomes? And we’re all measuring something. Very few of us have zero numbers or zero metrics in place. And I like starting with that question of are you measuring outputs or are you measuring outcomes because you can answer it without actually having to change anything just yet. You’re just asking a question. And we’ll find that most of us are measuring outputs because those are the easiest things to count.

[00:12:06.790] – Alexandra Mannerings
How many free lunches did I deliver? How many pets did I vaccinate? How many programs did I lead? And those are really important and they’re outputs. But we as nonprofits exist for an outcome. We exist to change something about the world, about our communities. And so I would challenge, then, when you ask that question and you get the most likely answer that you’re measuring outputs… could you find one way, just one metric that would measure one outcome that matters to your organization? And just put that in place and add it next to the outputs that you’re measuring.

[00:12:41.470] – Alexandra Mannerings
So if you report to a board and you’re reporting those outputs, add your outcome measure, just just one start there.

[00:12:46.960] – Boris
Can you give us an example of what an outcome measure might be or look like?

[00:12:49.990] – Alexandra Mannerings
So the most effective outcome measures are going to be tied to the reason that your nonprofit exists. So if we go back to the free lunches, why do you exist? And a free lunch program might exist to advance students, academics. It might exist because they want to make sure that kids are healthy. It might exist because they’re trying to create a fair starting point for everyone. That’s going to be unique to the organization. So your outcome measure should tie back to that goal. Right?

[00:13:21.670] – Alexandra Mannerings
So instead of measuring the free lunch, which is the outcome, if our goal is for students to perform better in academia, then you should be measuring the scholastic outputs of your students. Right? You should be saying what actually are their grades? And I would challenge you to push a little further because maybe you’re thinking, OK, well, we’re here to increase their grades. But are you really? Like, grades are one thing. What’s actually the thing that you would want to come after that?

[00:13:43.690] – Alexandra Mannerings
The next level outcome might be, well, we want them to be self-confident. Right?Or we want them to be able to do well in high school. Or we want maybe ultimately we want them to get jobs. I mean, like, I don’t know, it would be unique for each individual organization. But the trick is to get to if this thing I’m measuring were accomplished, could I close down my nonprofit? Right? Like if we got to one hundred percent on this measure, would I get to have the biggest, best party ever and say we’re done? And if you could say yes, then that’s the outcome you care about.

[00:14:18.530] – Boris
So it sounds like basically your outcome is very much tied to your mission.

[00:14:22.820] – Alexandra Mannerings
One hundred percent.

[00:14:24.080] – Boris
Are you succeeding in making the world a better place the way that you are promising, the way that you have declared to your donors who have now supported you to do?

[00:14:35.600] – Alexandra Mannerings
Yes, one hundred percent. And like I said, if you look at a lot of what’s out there right now. People do the sleight of hand, I think it’s accidental and how we think about things, I don’t know that it’s intentional, that we’ll say “we are supporting our middle school students because we’ve given one hundred thousand free lunches.” Right? Well, you’re not actually there just to give free lunches, right? That’s the tactic that you’ve picked to accomplish the real thing you’re out there with.

[00:15:02.490] – Alexandra Mannerings
And food’s a little bit different because most of us agree foods like an essential thing we need. So we don’t have to do a lot of effort to prove that, like feeding people is a good idea. But with other things, like I said, the yoga example. Right? If you do yoga to try to help reduce post-partum depression, you need to be able to show that participating in a yoga class does actually result in reducing post-partum depression.

[00:15:26.140] – Boris
Right on in acting, and I always bring things back to acting for some reason or other in filmmaking, we have the objective for any given scene and an actor knows their objective or they hopefully figure it out before they even go into the scene to record it or to do it on stage. But it’s not enough to try to go for an objective. They also, every line is often tied to a specific tactic, some way that they’re going to try to achieve that objective in that scene.

[00:15:56.770] – Boris
So in your case, the way that you’re laying it out, the outputs are the measurements of the tactics. It’s OK, my goal in this scene is to convince so-and-so to do this. One way I’m going to do that is by saying this. OK, how well did that work measure that? OK, that didn’t work as well as I want it. I’m going to move on to something else and I might have 15 in a scene all the same time.

[00:16:18.160] – Boris
And so those are my outputs and my outcomes are did I achieve my objective? How well did I achieve my overall objective for the scene? I love it.

[00:16:27.220] – Alexandra Mannerings
Yes. And I think this is the second half of once you start to kind of get these measures in place, you touched on, it’s hard to change. So if you’ve done a program for 15 years and it comes back up like this actually isn’t getting us as far as we want. It’s not giving us a good ROI. Maybe it’s accomplishing a little bit, but it’s costing us a tremendous amount to get that little bit of gain. And this new pilot project we’ve seen for half that amount gets twice the benefit. And so you may have to make some hard decisions when it comes back that some of these tactics aren’t quite the way that you want. And what I like to say is, make sure that you talk about that, where you put all of the people who are part of this on the same side. Right?

[00:17:06.550] – Alexandra Mannerings
Don’t be like, oh, we have to shut down Boris’ activity. No, no, no. Boris and I are going to sit there and we’re going to talk about how we achieve this outcome together and maybe Program A is the right one or maybe program B is. But we’re all on the same side here of trying to get closer to that objective. It’s really easy to slip into making it about people. Whether you tie the idea to the person or, like, Boris isn’t wrong.

[00:17:29.680] – Alexandra Mannerings
It’s that this program that Boris happens to be part of isn’t achieving the outcome that we wanted. And it feels small, but or sort of pedantic. But if you watch this happen and watch how we talk about things, then we have to change it. You’ll realize we make things about people all the time. We love to say that other people are bad or wrong because, like, something didn’t work when it’s really just that idea or that particular execution or whatever it is. So try to stay away from making it about the people.

[00:17:56.260] – Boris
And if we keep the scientific mindset in these decisions, then it’s more about rational thought.

[00:18:03.280] – Alexandra Mannerings

[00:18:03.640] – Boris
And in working together than it is about personality,

[00:18:06.390] – Alexandra Mannerings

[00:18:06.820] – Boris
Assigning blame,

[00:18:07.260] – Alexandra Mannerings

[00:18:07.260] – Boris
or achieving, receiving validation.

[00:18:11.260] – Alexandra Mannerings
Right. And it doesn’t have to feel like, “oh, the boss likes my idea better than someone else’s.” We’re just looking at the numbers we’re picking and we’ve picked what we care about. We’ve picked and we all agree. What’s the outcome we’re headed towards, what’s the direction we’re all rowing towards? And we all know that that’s where we want to get. And so it becomes much easier to be like, yes, I’ll let go of this one thing so I can add in something else that’s going to make us go fast.

[00:18:33.250] – Boris
And what I love about this line of thinking is that I often encourage organizations to adopt new strategies on a on a different scale. For example, if you’ve been teaching something in classrooms for many, many years and you’ve been achieving certain results, that’s wonderful. But if your mission is to teach as many people as possible, what if you put that same education up online? And one of my clients is doing that right now. And I think it’s amazing because sure, it may not be quite as effective as you, doing it personally, person to person.

[00:19:06.850] – Boris
But if you could reach ten times as many people and have even half the effect, well, that’s a five x improvement on the overall goal towards your mission.

[00:19:20.260] – Alexandra Mannerings
And that’s why you have to be really clear what you’re trying to achieve. Because the data can’t tell you where you should try to get to. They’re just going to tell you if you’re getting there faster, more effectively. So you have to decide what your final outcome is based on your values and what drives you and what drives your organization. Science won’t to do that for you. But science is going to help you get there the best way possible.

[00:19:43.330] – Boris
So what’s the second thing then? That nonprofit should do?

[00:19:47.260] – Alexandra Mannerings
So I challenge, like start with that one outcome measure. And I think the next step then you take is review your strategic plan and there should be an outcome measure associated with every step in that strategic plan. And every outcome measure that you put in that strategic plan should all feed back into that ultimate driving goal of your organization. And when you did the outputs versus outcomes, you may not have picked the one big outcome measure for your organization. You may have picked something small. Right?

[00:20:14.240] – Alexandra Mannerings
Start small, pick something that’s easy. So build to that so that you have sort of this pyramid of strategic measures that are accounting for all of your strategic goals. And they should all align with that one reason you exist.

[00:20:29.450] – Boris
And those measures, we often refer to them as key performance indicators or KPIs, is it just one per strategic goal?

[00:20:37.520] – Alexandra Mannerings
I like to start with one, because it forces you to determine what actually do you mean by this goal. If you can stuff a whole bunch in there, sometimes you will allow yourself to keep maybe even competing goals in the same one or not gain clarity about what actually are you trying to achieve. You’re going to go back to your class example, right? If their goal out of their education, right, the outcome they want is that they’re training people.

[00:21:06.800] – Alexandra Mannerings
And I don’t know the organization you’re working with, but if they’re training people to get jobs in the technical sector. There is a final outcome that they want from the output of them having these courses. And it could be that if going online and only getting half the benefit that might not get people to the level where they’re hirable in the tech sector. Right. But they got to be real clear that the outcome that they want is getting them hired.

[00:21:31.750] – Alexandra Mannerings
And that then leads them to like, what’s an acceptable drop-off in effectiveness or not. But if we’re just like we want to empower people in technology. You know, you might have a very broad strategic goal and you’re like, OK, we’re going to measure how many people get hired and we’re going to measure how many people pass the certification. We’re going to measure how many people—you stuff, all the stuff in here. You’re not getting down to that real specific, “No, no, no. Are we here to get people hired? Or are we here to, like, help them do hackathons? Are we here… why are we actually here doing this thing? If that makes sense.

[00:22:03.190] – Boris
It does, and so is there a way to measure that you’re measuring the right things? Not to get too meta on you here, but how do you know you’ve set the right KPIs up for your goals?

[00:22:15.160] – Alexandra Mannerings
I like to use that, “is it helpful? Is it useful?” Do you find that by measuring this thing, you’re able to make better, more accurate predictions about what will happen when you do X, Y or Z? Right. And if you find that you use this information, you make a decision A and X, Y, Z does not happen, then that’s probably not the right piece of information for you. Right? If you’re finding yourself constantly being surprised by the things that are happening out of the decisions you’re making, you’re not measuring the right things.

[00:22:47.260] – Alexandra Mannerings
Or if you find that having those information and pieces of information aren’t helping you make the determination, right, you get to this decision point. I have to choose between route one and route two.

[00:22:58.810] – Alexandra Mannerings
I would look at my available information and, “wait, none of these measures determine or help me think that one might be better than the other.” Well, then also, you’re not measuring things that are helpful for you because they’re not helping steer you.

[00:23:13.770] – Boris
So this sounds like it could get kind of, well, challenging for organizations and their internal teams to be able to wrangle. What suggestion do you have if an organization wants to go deeper down this road but doesn’t have the internal resources to do so?

[00:23:36.000] – Alexandra Mannerings
And I completely respect that. This is something that doesn’t come naturally to us as humans, doesn’t come naturally to us as organizations. So, again, that’s what I was saying, start with those baby steps. But if you are really committed to that, I would make a roadmap. Right? Here’s where we are. Here’s ultimately where we want to get to. Can we determine the steps we have to take to get there?

[00:23:55.540] – Alexandra Mannerings
And if you are struggling with that, reach out to outside help. Right? I mean, that’s one of the reasons my organization exists. But we’re not the only ones out there. There’s lots of different organizations that can help you based on where you are and where you want to start. And they can help you with that strategic planning. Right? Here are the steps we think you need to take. Or they can help you with those individual steps.

[00:24:12.360] – Alexandra Mannerings
So maybe you’ve been able to plot that and you’ll realize, oh, we just need help figuring out what technical platform to bring in. We don’t have the expertise to figure that out. And that could be where you bring that in. So those are all different ways that you can kind of think about how you get started. But to back it up just a little bit, you might not be at the strategic plan point. You might just be at that, “I want to take my first analytic step,” right?

[00:24:36.630] – Alexandra Mannerings
And so if you want to take that first analytic step, here’s a fun collaboration that I discovered is, reach out to your local university. There’s all of these grad students, masters and PhDs, who need a project to research in order to get a degree. And I can tell you, having been a candidate, having a project that’s going to make a difference is so much more meaningful than a project that’s going to sit on the shelf and collect dust when you’ve published it.

[00:25:01.680] – Alexandra Mannerings
And so you can look at what’s one pressing analytic question that you have that would be great for a grad student to actually research? Right? So, for example, it might be if we went back to our teaching, you want to know whether or not one of three different education approaches, which one of those is the most effective in producing either you’re hiring or your technical expertise or whatever it is. That would be a great grad student, a grad project for a student getting an Education PhD.

[00:25:34.890] – Alexandra Mannerings
Or if you’re in environment, if you’re protecting the environment and you’re trying to decide whether, you know, two different ways of cultivating trees is more effective and which one you should invest in, find an ecology major who’s doing a master’s program and you can have that be their research project. So you get great information back and you get to help a grad student. And I think it also is a great chance for us to shift as nonprofits. Right? We mostly think we have to ask for people to give us something. And this is a chance for you to give something to someone. The grad students need this just as much as you need them.

[00:26:09.000] – Boris
So to be clear then, it’s not that we’re looking for a grad program that studies analytics or something like that. We’re actually looking for any program related to the field that we’re in.

[00:26:20.790] – Alexandra Mannerings

[00:26:21.170] – Boris
And the grad students are looking for things to research. And you’re offering them that opportunity?

[00:26:25.730] – Alexandra Mannerings
Absolutely. And this is where I point out that we often mis-file analytics, right? We think either analytics is like a technical thing. Right? So I can go with IT. Or it often seems to get attached to finance as well, right? Oh, it’s only for donors. But no, analytics is science. Right? It’s asking questions and using an experiment or using data to answer that question to help us understand the real world, what worked and what didn’t.

[00:26:51.990] – Alexandra Mannerings
And so, yeah, you’ll find a program and there’s probably a program out there, regardless of what you do. I’m sure there are programs for whatever you might need. And so you could find your local university or it doesn’t have to always be local, especially in COVID era. There’s going to be a university out there that supports the thing that you do and you can connect with them. And when they have the right grad student, it may end up being a really, really valuable collaboration.

[00:27:17.590] – Boris
I love that idea because I do really like that nonprofits don’t have to constantly be asking for something and feel like they’re asking, but they’re making a difference, perhaps in another way. But it might actually be related to your mission because you’re helping a candidate in the field that you are already passionate about. So it’s a win-win-win.

[00:27:36.060] – Alexandra Mannerings

[00:27:36.930] – Boris
And I like the whole process of it being a loop in terms of you’re asking a question, you’re then seeing what the results are. You’re learning from that and you’re iterating. There’s in lean methodology, which is very popular in the startup world for the last, I don’t know, over ten years now, there is a cycle of build, measure, learn. So you’ve got your program, you measure the results, you learn from it, and then you revise your program, you tweak it slightly. You change one of the things that you’re trying to do to better achieve your mission, to keep optimizing it like that. I love it.

[00:28:11.640] – Alexandra Mannerings
A hundred percent.

[00:28:13.310] – Boris
So I always ask, are there any tools that you recommend organizations check out if they’re interested in going down this path?

[00:28:21.050] – Alexandra Mannerings
Yeah, so my hands down favorite tool is something called Alteryx. And the reason I love all tricks is it allows you to ask pretty much any question you would want of any data. Manipulate, clean, transform, statistically analyze, visualize, without having to know very much coding. So I told you, I’m coding illiterate, I can’t do R, I can’t do SAS, I can’t do Python, but I can Alteryx. And it’s a drag and drop interface, so you connect different tools and you get to visually see how you’re connecting pieces of each of those analytic steps, whether it’s a joint or a formula or whatever you might need.

[00:28:56.820] – Alexandra Mannerings
So for those organizations who are a little bit further along, right. They’re ready to try to bring some analysis in-house and they might have some complex data that they need to work with on that. Highly recommend checking out all Alteryx. I’ve used it for eight years now and a massive fan of it.

[00:29:13.240] – Boris
Do you know if they have nonprofit pricing?

[00:29:14.970] – Alexandra Mannerings
They do. They most definitely have nonprofit pricing.

[00:29:18.990] – Boris
Excellent. I really appreciate that. I’m going to go check it out. And of course, we’ll have it linked up in our show notes so that anybody who’s interested can just click the link and take it on over. So being the very story-based podcast that we are, every story has to have in their hero’s journey a call to action. Alexandra, what is your call to action for those people that have listened to this so far and are interested in learning more about you and what you do?

[00:29:44.070] – Alexandra Mannerings
Well, generally, you can learn more about me by visiting my website, or connecting to me on LinkedIn. I always love hearing questions that come in over LinkedIn. My more specific call to action is that we are planning a small data summit for the end of September and in that we are going to invite ten experts to spend 15 minutes giving you at least one actionable thing that you can take for each step of the analytic journey. So we’ll go all the way from data strategic planning to putting data in the hands of decision makers and the steps that you take in between.

[00:30:15.030] – Alexandra Mannerings
So the idea is, even if you’re super busy, you can come drop in for 15 minutes or stay for the whole four hours that it will be, and hopefully learn the things that you need to at least get… take those first couple of steps in analytics. So it’ll be on my website under events. So you can check out more as we finalize the details for that.

[00:30:32.280] – Boris
We will definitely link that up. That sounds like a great event. I’m going to check it out myself because I’m always happy to learn more about data, about analytics, about all things geeky and about how to improve nonprofits’ performance in general. So thank you so much for doing that. And thank you for being on our show today.

[00:30:48.240] – Alexandra Mannerings
Thank you so much for having me, Boris. It’s been an absolute pleasure.

[00:30:51.900] – Boris
Likewise. And thank you everybody who has tuned in and watched or listened or read the transcript of this episode. We hope that you’ve enjoyed it. We hope that you will share it. And of course, if you like it, let us know by leaving a review on whatever platform you consume this content. Thanks so much, everybody. We’ll see you soon.

[00:31:30.340] – Outro Video
Thank you all for watching and listening to the Nonprofit Hero Factory, we hope this episode has given you some ideas and strategies for creating more heroes for your cause and a better world for all of us. Please be sure to subscribe to this show on YouTube, Facebook, iTunes, Spotify, or your favorite podcast platform and let us know what you think, by leaving a review.

Concepts and Takeaways:

  • We can use data and analytics to offset our weaknesses. (4:51)
  • Nonprofits tend to think that analytics is about segmenting your donors or testing the effectiveness of your mailer. Analytics needs to be as fundamental as HR or having a cash flow strategy because data underpins all efforts in an organization. (6:28)
  • Organizations shouldn’t be satisfied with the work that they are doing unless they know that it is working. (8:26)
  • That which is measured, grows. If you are not measuring your current performance in your current impact, how do you know if it’s growing or not? (9:25)
  • Every step you take is important. Organizations don’t have to change everything at once. Ask one question of one thing you’re doing. Measure it. Improve it. Then add another, one by one. (11:10)
  • Start by looking at what you’re currently measuring: Are they outputs or outcomes? Most of the time we’re measuring outputs because they’re the easiest thing to measure. (11:38)
  • Outputs are a measure of your tactics, like meals served or students tutored. Outcomes are a measure of your bigger goal behind your tactics, like ending hunger or helping students get good jobs. (14:35)
  • When evaluating your ROI and making decisions based on data, be careful not to make it about the people working in those programs. You’re all on the same team, trying to create the most impact in the world. (16:27)
  • Organizations have to be clear with what they are trying to achieve. Data cannot tell you where to go. It can only tell you if you are getting to your goal faster and more effectively. (19:20)
  • Test whether or not you’re measuring the right things by looking at how well those measurements help you steer your organization towards making decisions that improve your outputs and outcomes. (22:15)
  • Start with a roadmap: Here’s where we are, here’s where we want to get to, what are the steps we have to take to get there? (23:45)
  • Consider reaching out to a university and partnering with a masters or PhD candidate doing research in your field. Giving them a meaningful project to work on creates a win-win and another way you can advance the field that you are focused on. (24:36)

Action Steps: What Now?

  • Resource Spotlight

    In this episode, the following resources were mentioned:

    • Alteryx – It’s low-to-no code and can be used with nearly any data, anywhere.
  • Start implementing!

About this week’s guest

Alexandra Mannerings

Alexandra Mannerings

CEO/Founder, Merakinos

Alexandra Mannerings founded her analytic education and consulting company, Merakinos, to help social enterprises and non-profits harness the power of data. She earned her PhD in Veterinary Science (Epidemiology) from the University of Cambridge, UK, and a BSc in Biology from Emory University. She has also run the Data Center at a state hospital association, rowed for the Light Blues, built trails across Colorado parks, and is currently raising two spirited toddlers.

Connect with Alexandra Mannerings