I Know I Can has made dramatic changes to its organization and how it helps students in the Columbus City Schools pursue and complete a college education. The change is largely due to data management.
Executive Director Katina Fullen says nonprofits typically don’t have funds to invest in data management software or time to evaluate that data. Most resources are directed to the people it serves.
But without data management, it’s hard to determine what is working.
“We weren’t afraid of the data, but I know that there are organizations that do fear the data and are fearful of what they’ll find,” Fullen says. “It’s the truth, but it can be scary to think that you’ve been doing great work, and then look at data that may tell you the opposite.”
I Know I Can didn’t let fear stand in the way of learning more about what it would take to get students in and through college.
“By being confident enough in the process, we have learned more than we ever expected about our work, about the students’ and families’ needs and about how we go about our business,” she says.
For example, using data, surveys and community conversations, Fullen says I Know I Can decided to expand its core service — college advising. Splitting the cost with the school district, the nonprofit went from providing a college adviser one day a week to a full-time adviser in all 20 high schools.
Growing the effectiveness
In I Know I Can’s last strategic planning process, Fullen says they identified data management as the largest issue. They wanted to gather and store data, while developing a dashboard and database to help with decision-making.
At the time, I Know I Can only tracked inputs and outputs. It could say it helped X students complete scholarship applications and that X students received a grant in a given year. It couldn’t tell potential funders, its board or the school district if those students actually graduated college.
“I could come to you and show you 10 very successful students, and I could give you qualitative data and great stories, but I couldn’t give you the numbers,” Fullen says.
Thanks to an unexpected bequest, I Know I Can used a little more than $500,000 to develop a dashboard and database in an 18-month period.