Utilize a Key Data Source for Nonprofits

By Barbara Merrill, Principle Consultant When nonprofits apply for program funding, they describe—in great detail—how the programs will impact the community and program participants. Many times proposals will include a variety of data including: • descriptive data on how the program was designed and will be implemented; • an estimate of the number of participants; • how well the participants will be engaged with the program; • the projected outcomes from the program.

So, how do you glean information about your community? While there are many sources of information on the Internet it can be quite difficult to know which ones will yield the best results for you. You need to know which sources you can trust, use easily, are updated often, and still have meaningful data about your area.

Here’s a great resource for you! One great resource for robust data is MN Compass. You should bookmark it and visit at least twice a year. The site was put together in response to local foundations, key business groups, and nonprofits coming together over the real concern about the large and continuing racial disparities in Minnesota. The Compass Advisory Group knew that to help identify and change the dialogue about racial disparities in Minnesota, it was critical to compile all the best data into one accessible website. Along with good data, key measures were agreed upon and would be tracked over time. The Advisory Group determined some key measures in fifteen areas that were deemed critical to track including: • aging; • economy; • early childhood/youth (including high school graduation rates); • demographics; • workforce and • housing (including median incomes).

The menus also offer the ability to examine the US as a whole based on data from the U.S. Census Bureau for a few key data points. You can also examine data from other major U.S. metropolitan areas. This adds some much needed comparative information as to how well other areas are doing on key measures.

Most data are presented first in graphical form. One can easily see the trends and differences between key elements over time. Using their dropdown menu, you can also get the actual data points – allowing you to pick which ones are most important to your agency’s needs.

Notable Trends Minnesota Compass puts out an annual report that includes notable trends that will impact the state in the future. For example, in 2016 three out of every ten households in Minnesota pay 30 percent or more of their income on housing. This is the national definition of being a “cost-burdened” household. Another identified trend: Since 1990 almost all of Minnesota’s population growth has come from increases in the numbers of people of color.

The website also has a menu of “Ideas at Work” which lists organizations and/or programs that have or are explicitly addressing each key area. Links to the organization provide ideas that have worked or possible collaborations that might be useful to other organizations.

Finally, the website includes references to other sources that one can explore further. The “Library” of references is annotated so that you can easily discern what is covered by each reference, who did the research, the date of the research, and the link to the research.

Although the website was put together with racial disparities in mind, it is very useful for other needs and trends as well. The versatility of this website is one of the main reasons it has become such a valuable resource.