when the only data you have are testimonials

The Need For, and Value Of, Both Qualitative and Quantitative Data

Your donors want to know about results. They want to know they are not wasting money, that good things are happening.

Your workers want to know about results. They want to know their lives are counting for something worthwhile, something that’s actually making the world a better place.

As a leader, you want to know about results. You want to know you are leading well, as proved by real and positive change.

Sometimes the only thing a nonprofit knows about results comes from testimonials. Let’s say your organization is doing vocational training for slumdwellers in Cairo. That’s a great, much-needed mission. So what do you know about the results of your organization’s work – for your donors, your workers, and yourself?

Well, maybe you know the story of Amir, who got trained, got a decent job, and saved enough money for further education. Or the story of Layla, who got trained, got a steady job, and was able to move from a shack to a decent apartment. Or the story of Malik, who got trained, got a job, and climbed the employment ladder to become a well-paid manager. Or the story of Zara, who got trained, got a job, and then paid for medical care that saved the lives of several in her family. And so on.

Two comments.

First, these are all great, wonderful, and valuable. Gather these stories. Treasure them. Learn to tell them well.

Second, they are not enough, if your donors, and your workers, and you, want to truly understand the results of your work. Testimonials only tell what is possible, not what is typical. They only shed thin rays of light into specific little corners of what has happened, vs. illuminating the broader picture of your organization’s impact.

Your donors, your workers, and you don’t just want to know what happened to Amir, Layla, Malik, and Zara. You also want to know things like:

1.    How many slumdwellers are there in Cairo? How many of them need vocational training? Is that number growing? Is your organization gaining on the problem?

2.    How many learn about your training and reject it? Of those that accept and enrol, how many finish the course? Of those that finish the course, how many get jobs? Of those that get jobs, how many are still employed a year later? Of those that are still employed later, how many see their income grow over time?

3.    Let’s say you train for six different occupations. Of those six, which are more likely to result in employment? Which lead to better pay? Which are more popular with those who enrol? Which have lower drop-out rates?

The answers to those questions are numbers. So you need quantitative research.

You need both. Qualitative research (stories) is great, but incomplete. Quantitative research (numbers) is important, but dry – the stories fill out the statistical picture and make it come alive. Stories are data; numbers are data. Data tells you about results.

love, joy, peace … Michael

www.michaeljaffarian.com. Michael is a freelance consultant to nonprofits, with an emphasis on research. Contact him for a free, one-hour consultation. emichaeljaffarian@gmail.com.

Vol. 1 No. 36