Data Measurement Assisting Nonprofits During COVID-Times

November 19, 2020 – The Central New York Community Foundation is distributing more than $128,000 in grants to help local nonprofit organizations measure and demonstrate program impact. This comes at a time when the sector is experiencing uncertainty due to consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic.

In Central New York and across the nation, nonprofit organizations are experiencing devastating impacts as a result of COVID-19 and the resulting financial down-turn. Most notably, a dramatic reduction in private funding due to canceled fundraisers, loss of earned income revenue and a decrease in individual donations, paired with unpaid state grant contracts, have resulted in layoffs, program delivery limitations and the risk of closure. At the same time, the needs of their constituents have changed, resulting in a demand for program adjustments.

“As residents and organizations adjust to a new normal with social distancing mandates and the economy starts to recover, it will become more important than ever for nonprofits to demonstrate their impact and value in order to excel,” said Robyn Smith, director of strategic initiatives at the Community Foundation. “They will also be faced with the challenge of ensuring their programs address the current needs of those they serve as the situation evolves.”

Eleven nonprofits recently accepted into the Community Foundation’s Performance Management Learning Community (PMLC) will be working over the course of the next year toward those objectives.

For one of this year’s participants, The Boys & Girls Clubs of Syracuse, COVID-19-related school closures resulted in its regular after-school programming turning into a day program. In addition, the switch to virtual classrooms has increased demand for its Wi-Fi and technology access. The organization hopes to use the data it gathers through PMLC to tweak its programming so that it is most beneficial for those who need it.

“Funding is going to be tight and it is crucial to our survival to be able to collaborate and share resources,” said Tracy DiGenova, director of marketing and development at the Boys & Girls Clubs. “We are looking forward to getting information that helps us put together activities that our members want and need.”

Another group that’s using new PMLC skills to assess how well it is serving its constituents is Clear Path for Veterans. In addition to food insecurity, Veterans also struggle with social isolation, and the pandemic has compounded this feeling along with other mental health challenges. Additionally, Veterans and their families have taken a financial hit due to job loss and unemployment. To answer the call, Clear Path enhanced its Warriors Working program to assist with resume development and job searches and has been providing emotional support through “Buddy Checks” to ensure Veterans’ needs are met. The organization also distributes engagement boxes with activities to keep Veterans and their families occupied during this time.

Alex Behm, Clear Path executive director, says that PMLC support will help the organization conduct a site-wide impact survey among its constituents to determine effectiveness.

“It’s important for us to figure out ways to alleviate the struggles Veterans experience and determine if we are effective in the process,” he said. “This will enable us to revise and create better goals and outcomes for all of our programs and work on a strong strategic plan for our agency.”

This year, six organizations received a total of $104,000 in grants to join the next PMLC class: Wellhouse Ministries ($17,000); Center for Court Innovation ($20,000); Joseph’s House for Women ($20,000); Boys & Girls Clubs of Syracuse ($7,000); Planned Parenthood of Central and Western New York ($20,000); and Clear Path for Veterans ($20,000).

The Community Foundation awards PMLC grants toward data measuring efforts, which include such things as database management and statistical analysis, to help nonprofits track their efforts and look for trends. This in turn assists the organizations in identifying what is working and what is not, leading to the development of more effective programming and funding competitiveness. Applicants agreed to participate in a year-long learning community in order to qualify for a grant.

Another five organizations are joining a PMLC Prep group to learn how to collect community assessment responses with $5,000 grants each: Onondaga Environmental Institute, Madison County Rural Health Council, Strategic Management Resources/Upstate Minority Economic Alliance, Syracuse Community Connections, and Onondaga Earth Corps.  

Kateri Spinella, president of Wellhouse Ministries, an end-of-life care agency located in Oswego, is looking forward to working together with other local organizations in the learning community experience:

“I hope to gain new friends, share information and learn whether the ways we are reinventing ourselves during these times are being effective.”

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The Central New York Community Foundation is a public charity established in 1927 that collects contributions from donors, manages them to grow over time and then distributes funding to local charities to help them thrive. It is the largest charitable foundation in Central New York with assets of nearly $260 million and has invested more than $200 million in community improvement projects since its inception. As a grantmaker, civic leader, convener and sponsor of strategic initiatives, the Community Foundation strives to strengthen local nonprofits, encourage better understanding of the region and address the most critical issues of our time.

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