All nonprofits and their programs should track basic demographics of clients that participate in their programs at a bare minimum. More and more grant funders are asking applicants to provide basic demographics on those they serve. Here’s how to use data to strengthen your grant writing.
What are basic demographics?
Basic demographics would include age ranges, sex, race/ethnicity, economic range/level, and zip code or address. Many funders are also focusing funding on veterans or other special groups. This is especially important if you serve a specific demographic. You’ll want to track their use of your programs.
If your nonprofit will eventually be eligible for any type of government grants, it would be best to match your demographic categories to the census demographics categorization. If you use a different categorization to track your demographic data, be prepared to explain the rationalization behind the difference.
You may possibly need to spend time, when filling out grant applications or reports, to extrapolate your data to match those defined by the funder. In addition to government grants, many larger company foundations, community foundations, and nationwide/international funders request basic demographic data.
What are other potential data points to track?
Some programs need to track education level and employment status as a basic demographic for their funders. For other programs, these data points might be optional. In terms of reaching your clients, it is good to ask where and how clients hear about your services. Are brochures or word of mouth referrals the biggest “marketing” element bringing your clients to you? Think about what is unique and worth tracking for your nonprofit and clients. Use this data to strengthen your grant writing.
Some funders also want to know how many “unduplicated” clients have you served. Unduplicated means you have only counted them once in your numbers, though they may have used many of your services over several weeks or months.
Why is it important to track basic demographics?
Knowing more about your clients will help you to better serve your clients. A yearly review of your demographic data is the minimum amount of time in which it should be reviewed. If you have staff and can look at it quarterly, that would be a great opportunity to help you meet community needs as they emerge. Data can tell you if new types of client are seeking your service. It can help you uncover new potential funders too. These are trends worth noting and doing some research to find funders who would support your program with these new demographics.
How can I track and analyze all this data every year?
First, be sure to design an electronic database that works for your nonprofit. Perhaps you have one mandated that you need to use, based on the work you do. If the mandated database does not meet all your needs, can you add custom fields to it? Or can you create another database that will cross-reference with the mandated data to track?
As long as program staff understand how important data is to your agency’s long term funding and accountability efforts, and track the data you request, you will be fine. Volunteers could come in and do the actual data entry. Interns at the college level or pro-bono professionals can also help you track and analyze your data to help you make a stronger case statement for funding support.
Using data to strengthen your grant writing
Being able to clearly and concisely describe your agency’s impact on your community can often be the difference between receiving a grant or not. A basic count of who you serve and how often during your fiscal year is a great starting point. The next level of data to support your development program and grants would be having more defined data on your outcomes. But that is another blog!
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