Measurement Resources Company moves missions forward by equipping social sector leaders with the data and insights they need to solve complex social problems. In this article, we’re excited to share how Pittsburgh, PA-based New Sun Rising (NSR) is transforming how nonprofits use data to drive their work. We hope that by sharing NSR’s story, others will be inspired to use data for the greater good.

In 2018, New Sun Rising—a nonprofit that designs and implements programs that create economic opportunity, solve social challenges, and strengthen community vibrancy—was exploring new ways that NSR could help increase the impact of its organizations and their communities. From this exploration, promoting data utilization, and collaboration were the frontrunners.

NSR has since worked to help organizations increase their use of data and apply more collaborative approaches to their work. During that time, the NSR team heard Sheri Chaney Jones, president of Measurement Resources Company and SureImpact, Inc., speak at an Americans for the Arts event. After the event, Sheri gave Scott Wolovich, NSR’s executive director, a copy of her book, Impact & Excellence: Data-Driven Strategies for Aligning Mission, Culture and Performance in Nonprofit and Government Organizations.

One of the points that Sheri drives home in her book is that organizations with higher data cultures realize higher levels of operational effectiveness and stronger relationships. After reading the book, Scott recognized a strong alignment between the research Measurement Resources conducts. Sheri’s technology solution to track, measure and communicate social impact, SureImpact, and what his nonprofit was working to achieve on behalf of the organizations it serves. He asked Sheri to give a presentation to NSR’s organizations in early 2020.

“I recognized Sheri as a mission-aligned visionary, who was looking to build out resources in a similar way from both the data side and the collaborative side of the nonprofit ecosystem,” said Scott.

NSR supports over 180 social sector leaders annually, through capacity building services, training, and now its Power in Numbers initiative designed to provide grassroots, community-led organizations the data and communication tools they need to be more competitive. Supporting the Power in Numbers initiative is the Vibrancy Portal, a new technological solution that launched in early 2021, and as of October 2021, has approximately 25 early adopter organizations using it to collect and analyze their data, and report their impact.

“The feedback we’ve received so far, is that they’re learning a lot during the process of collecting data, the storytelling reports are a really useful tool to communicate impact, and organizations can now respond more competitively to grant proposals and requests for proposals,” said Scott.

Just as NSR provides fiscal sponsorship for many low-capacity, early-stage organizations that aren’t quite ready to go through the process of becoming a 501(c)(3), the Power in Numbers initiative and the Vibrancy Portal are designed to provide support around data and communicating impact.

“Some of these smaller, community-led organizations often have some of the most innovative and culturally appropriate solutions for their communities,” said Scott, “but they may not have the capacity to be competitive for some of the grants and other traditional funding sources for nonprofits.” 

Another observation, according to Scott is that many of the data systems in the nonprofit sector are centered around social human service-types of organizations. The organizations NSR supports span impact areas of economic development, environmental sustainability, and arts and culture organizations—more humanities-type organizations, all of which are all interconnected in terms of building equitable, more sustainable, vibrant communities.

The thinking behind building the Vibrancy Portal was to make it user-friendly, intuitive, and help give people the technology to collect information, analyze it, and create communications and reports. The portal uses the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals as a common tagging system for all of the data that’s being collected. This has been especially useful when streamlining the various vernacular of multiple organizations within a single initiative, which can include nonprofits, government agencies, faith-based groups, for profit social enterprises, and other types of community stakeholders. It also allows for more aggregated storytelling, engagement, and insights by using these goals.

The impact of the platform is twofold: directly to the grassroots organizations NSR serves, as well as intermediaries, funders and investors, who can create portfolios, where they can look across all of the organizations they support, and glean portfolio-level insights.

“Nonprofits and social enterprises are critical to leading the racial and social justice work that has emerged, in addition to the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic over the past year. We hear funders talking more about transparency and accountability, and really the only way to accomplish this is by resourcing data utilization and clear communications with the people we are serving,” said Scott. “One would hope that in light of this shared commitment, there’d be an uptick in investments and support for systems like SureImpact and the Vibrancy Portal. I’ve appreciated so much the work that SureImpact is doing, and Sheri’s thought leadership in terms of pushing this forward. We need dozens of us if not more working to lift this up as a market and to continue to advocate for the importance of why this work is necessary to support.