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The Cultural Data Project

This week, I came across an interesting blog post on the Cultural Data Project. We first learned of the CDP when conducting our own network wide Impact Survey last fall, and several of our Culture Nonprofits mentioned the CDP as another data collection and tracking tool commonly used by arts organizations in DC. The CDP is a “unique system that enables arts and cultural organizations to enter financial, programmatic and operational data into a standardized online form. Organizations can then use the CDP to produce a variety of reports designed to help increase management capacity, identify strengths and challenges and inform decision-making. They can also generate reports to be included as part of the application processes to participating grantmakers.” The District of Columbia is one of thirteen states that currently takes part in the CDP.

Talis Gibas and Amanda Keil, writing for Createquity, discussed the background of the CDP, its impact to date on both sector-wide research and arts organizations, as well as potential future expansions. Their article highlights opportunities and challenges for CDP as it transitions in 2013 to an independent entity after operating under the Pew Charitable Trusts. To date, it seems as though the project has proved of greater use and benefit to researchers and advocates for the arts instead of arts organizations themselves:

“Cultural organizations themselves don’t always hear about work, or take full advantage of the CDP’s resources. In 2012, the CDP conducted a survey of over 1,800 arts organizations charged with filling out a Data Profile every year …68 percent of respondents had never read a report that includes CDP data. This implies that researchers, and the CDP itself, need to close the feedback loop between research and the constituents being studied. In addition, the survey revealed that more than 40% of participating organizations have never run an annual, trend, or comparison report. The same survey that found nearly half of organizations don’t use CDP reporting tools also found that 45% of participants understood their own finances better as a result of completing the Profile. Of those respondents that did use CDP reports, 40% said it resulted in better transparency, 45% said they had a better sense of their progress and goals, and 56% said they had a better sense of their organization over time. These relatively low percentages suggest that even organizations taking full advantage of CDP reports do not always find them of substantial benefit.”

This is not entirely surprising to the Catalogue, as we work with small (arts) nonprofits regularly who struggle with the capacity to accomplish many routine administrative duties, not including additional data tracking and reporting. As a project like the Cultural Data Project gains traction, and as the post suggests, becomes a more routine and common tool for arts grant-makers, perhaps more nonprofits will ‘buy in’ and find the process worthwhile.

As far as I can tell, the CDP primarily partners with larger foundation funders. Our sweet spot is individual and smaller family foundation donors, and it will be interesting to see if and how projects like the CDP will reach out to this donor community — at least with ways to access their data and research to inform individual philanthropy as well as foundation giving.

The article also mentions a similar tool that’s been developed for the community and economic development sector called Success Measures — “an outcome evaluation resource for community development organizations, intermediaries and funders.” The emergence of multiple similar tools for tracking trends and outcomes just goes to show the growing importance of impact measurement within the nonprofit and funder communities.

I applaud this trend and look forward to seeing how projects like CDP will help not only individual organizations better track their own data, trends, and outcomes but help provide a better picture of trends across the sector — and see where and how the needles are moving on key social issues. This is potentially more relevant for moving needles like poverty rates, educational achievement levels, and adult literacy, but also may also be key in securing support for the arts as sequestration and other government cuts start to hit.

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