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Muskie researchers helping Maine's foundations and nonprofits with their data

 

A new report from the Data Innovation Project — part of USM’s Muskie School of Public Service — aims to help foundations and nonprofit organizations improve the quality of the information they use in conversation and decision making.

"This was an exciting project for the Data Innovation Project to undertake, to try to bring clarity to the often confusing world of performance measurement,” said Susy Hawes, a research associate at Muskie’s Cutler Institute and the report’s lead author.

The 21-page report suggests methods of data use and best practices for foundations and nonprofit organizations.

Nationally, 94 percent of nonprofit professionals do not feel they are using the data effectively, and 75 percent of foundation professionals do not feel they are using their data effectively. Yet, data is commonly used in grant applications for funding.

The Data Innovation Project has worked with over 250 Maine nonprofits since it began in 2016 with support from the Maine Economic Improvement Fund.

“Seeing first-hand how Maine nonprofits structure their grant applications interested and prepared me more for a future career than what I could have learned in a class,” said Hannah Whitney, a graduate assistant. “The most intriguing aspect of the research to me was the breadth of evaluation requirements built into grant applications and how widely the expectations for evaluation varied across grantors. More than anything I would be interested to see if this report helps grantors to think about how they are requiring their grantees to evaluate and even reflect upon the impact of their programs."

Hawes credited graduate students with helping to understand Maine nonprofits.

“We could not have completed the report without our two graduate students who dug into dozens of applications to help paint the picture of what look like for Maine nonprofits,” Hawes said.  “We hope the result is the beginning of a conversation that ultimately benefits both nonprofits and foundations.”