- Patricia Neuray
Taking a "Byte" Out of Technology Challenges for Black Nonprofits
Most nonprofits operate on shoestring budgets and must allocate resources exceptionally carefully. However, black-led nonprofits are especially resource-deprived. On average, they don't get anywhere near the necessary funding, and their budgets are often highly restricted regarding how the money can be spent. For example, a Stanford Social Innovation Review study found that black-led nonprofits have on average 76% less unrestricted revenue than their white-led counterparts. This means they cannot scale their operations and create efficiencies that would make money go further in helping the people who need it. Another startling statistic came from the National Committee for Responsible Philanthropy which found that of the $2.2 billion given out by 25 community foundations between 2016 and 2018 in major cities like Los Angeles, New Orleans, and New York, only 1% went to organizations explicitly serving black communities. In addition to funding and resources, nonprofits need to take their vast data sets and analyze them to make decisions that will better serve their constituencies. Fortunately, there is light at the end of the tunnel. BCT Partners explores how two innovative programs are helping organizations get the technology resources and the analytical capabilities that will vastly improve their philanthropic outcomes.
Shortly after the murder of George Floyd, Microsoft convened an all-hands meeting to discuss how they should respond to the social unrest that was enveloping the country. Darrell Booker, a Microsoft strategist who had spent most of his tech career in the nonprofit sector, was at that meeting. He was already familiar with the research illustrating how woefully under-resourced, black-led nonprofits were. So, Booker was one of the first to speak up at the meeting, explaining that Microsoft had an obligation to help these organizations, and the best way to do that was by implementing technology to help them scale. His comments struck a chord. Within weeks of the meeting, Microsoft created the Nonprofit Tech Acceleration Program for Black Communities (NTA) and named Booker the lead. This is not just some feel-good program in name only as they have put real money behind it, lots of it. In 2020 alone, they gave out $1.9 billion in software, services, and grants to 200,000 nonprofits. In addition, they provide technical assistance, and in some cases, even build entire websites at no cost. Charisse Bremond-Weaver works for an organization that is one of the beneficiaries. As CEO and President of the Brotherhood Crusade in Los Angeles, she explains how Microsoft has helped them solve some of their technology challenges. “This program is showing our staff how to leverage technology platforms that will allow us to share data collaboratively as well as improve our youth-development-case-management process.”
The technology is one part of the equation, but the second part is once data is digitized, the key is to make it useful. As the cliché goes, “data is the new oil" and nonprofits have lots of it. But how do they utilize it to make their programs richer and more effective? It isn't a simple task for any organization, and many large corporations use Artificial Intelligence to analyze vast quantities of data to make more informed decisions about their customers. So, how can that work for charitable organizations that don’t have those resources?
Well, let’s look at a hypothetical example of a nonprofit that aids homeless families in finding permanent housing. Housing is just the first challenge. The family may need help with employment and transportation. The parent or parents may have substance abuse problems. Their children may lag in school due to the instability they have experienced. So, how can data be used to ensure that this particular family has the best chance of success within their new environment? How do you get them the right combination of resources to start them off on a solid foundation, so they don't end up in the same situation in a year or two? That’s where data can make a huge difference. Most nonprofits have a one size fits all approach. They don't have the luxury of looking at each situation uniquely and making decisions accordingly. However, to have a better likelihood of success, that’s the exact approach they need to be taking. Information can be parsed by looking at vast amounts of data, and determinations can be made based on an individual profile. What’s going to ensure the best possible chance of success based on a constituent’s unique situation? What has worked for other families that have similar profiles?
Fortunately, companies like BCT Partners are committed to helping these charities get the most benefit possible from their data resources. BCT Partners was founded to help organizations make progressive change through information technology and data science. Using data science to optimize social programs through their Precision Impact practice, they combine machine learning, precision data analysis, and social science expertise to revolutionize how social programs are developed and augmented for optimal performance. This allows charitable organizations to solve issues like the hypothetical problem described above. They can now get insight into how to help that particular family with their unique situation. It allows them to customize an approach to ensure the best chance of success. In addition, at the height of COVID, BCT developed a free insight tool designed to precisely evaluate the capacity of nonprofit service providers to meet the needs of the local communities they serve. The COVID-19 Urgent Service Provider (CUSP) tool, helps donors identify the communities that have the greatest need and the nonprofits that can make the most substantial impact during COVID-19. It was built on BCT's proprietary data platform, the Equitable Impact Platform (EQUIP), built to measure social impact effectiveness. To see how the product works, you can click here.
In summary, while there is no shortage of inequities that need to be addressed, the first step is acknowledging them. The second step is to have the will to do something about it. Fortunately, we are seeing many companies offering their expertise, like Microsoft and BCT Partners. And it could not happen soon enough. As Edgar Villanueva, vice president of programs and advocacy at the Schott Foundation for Public Education and author of the book Decolonizing Wealth, states, "Despite all of the talks of diversity, equity, and inclusion, and the headway that has been made at foundations, when you look at who is getting money, we still have a major injustice. It's unjust when you think of the billions of dollars going out every year and the small percentage going to communities of color and leaders of color. And I think the philanthropic sector should see that as a major failure."
For more information about BCT Partners Precision Impact Practice, click here.
To read other BCT Partners blogs, click here.