Data drives change
23 July 2020 at 8:45 am
If Australia’s charities are to be given further special consideration by government, business, donors and communities, we need to build a case for increased support based on good data, writes David Crosbie.
“Data inspires progress and galvanizes change. To know where we need to go, we need to know what we’ve achieved – where progress is being made and where major challenges remain.” – Maura Pally, executive director, Clinton Foundation.
To say data is important to organisations is a little like saying a steering wheel is important to a car. Without good data, we are all at risk of heading in the wrong direction, running off the road, doing more damage than good. A lack of data can lead to organisations rewarding failure and ignoring success. Surveys published in business and management magazines around the globe underscore the fundamental importance of data in organisations large and small to inform their decision making and strategy.
Data also plays a critical role in advocacy and policy making.
One of the reasons CCA and many others argued so strongly in support of establishing the Australian Charities and Not-for-profit Commission (ACNC) was that a regulator collecting annual information from Australia’s 55,000+ charities would be able to provide invaluable information about the scope and nature of the charities sector. The information generated through the ACNC has proved its worth on many occasions, most recently in advocacy related to the federal government COVID-19 response.
When CCA was first advocating for charities to be included in government COVID-19 support packages, we drew on our membership to provide more than a dozen real life case studies of the impact of COVID-19 on charities. While these case studies were welcomed, some in government described the case studies as soft data, lacking the strength to inform major national policy decisions. We were able to back up the case studies with collective data about charities from the ACNC including data about how many people were employed in the charity sector, the annual turnover of the sector and contribution to GDP.
The combination of detailed case studies and sector-wide ACNC data was further enhanced by targeted research from the Centre for Social Impact on the state of the sector prior to COVID-19 (income growth had already stalled or was going backwards in real terms for most charities), and analysis from the Australian Centre for Philanthropy and Non-profit Studies at QUT on factors such as levels of giving pre and post the global financial crisis (post the GFC average individual giving dropped by around 20 per cent and stayed low for at least three years).
This academic data was supplemented by previous surveys conducted by Pro Bono Australia and Our Community to provide a compelling snapshot of where the charity sector was and what was likely to happen as activities and income streams were reduced.
The response from government in support of the Australian charities sector was world leading – I know of no other countries where so many charities have been given special concessional access to employment support programs such as JobKeeper.
Many people have talked about the role advocacy played in achieving this positive outcome for Australian charities in programs such as JobKeeper, but underpinning all the collective efforts of many groups including CCA was important data about the charities sector.
Now charities face a new data challenge as we begin rebuilding the sector: if Australia’s charities are to be given further special consideration by government, business, donors and communities, we need to build a case for increased support based on good data.
In the last two weeks, Pro Bono Australia has conducted another important survey – this one involving over 400 charities. Fifty-nine per cent of those surveyed were receiving JobKeeper, some had already laid off staff and many more would have to retrench staff if JobKeeper ended. Many were still battling with governments about roll-over of unspent funds.
Social Ventures Australia and the Centre for Social Impact also released a detailed analysis of ACNC data using financial modelling to demonstrate how vulnerable many charities are. A 20 per cent drop in revenue would leave the majority of Australian charities in a precarious financial position with no reserves and limited capacity to keep operating.
The information provided in both these sets of data is important as is information provided in snapshot surveys from ACOSS, Philanthropy Australia and others. CCA continues drawing on all this data to make the case for charities to be better supported through COVID-19. We want to ensure as many charities as possible not only survive through the pandemic, but are strong and effective enough to offer the increased support many communities will require over the coming two years and beyond.
There are two more surveys I believe are critical to making the case for charities over the coming months as well as building ongoing essential trend data into the future:
Centre for Social Impact Pulse of the Sector Survey: This survey will provide an in-depth look at the current operating conditions for Australian charities and for-purpose organisations.
Digital Technology in the Not for Profit Sector: Infoxchange are gathering critical insights into how not-for-profit organisations across Australia and New Zealand are using technology. This research helps efforts to support capacity building, digital inclusion and digital transformation in the sector to grow impact and better serve our communities.
Completing both these surveys may take an hour of your time, but if enough of us take that hour, many organisations will be in a much better position to advocate for our sector drawing on this data to inform national policy priorities.
Data alone will not deliver change, but it is a critical component in so much of our work, including advocacy. Without input from charities, we will not have the data we need to make the strongest possible case for targeted investment in charities across Australia.
My hope is that the sector will not only recognise the value of data, but take the opportunity and support all of us working to build flourishing communities now and into the future. Complete the surveys, please.