Forward-looking nonprofit organizations know that leveraging data is key to determining where a community’s unmet needs are, securing resources to address those needs, and advocating for more effective policies.

Individual donors and foundations increasingly view data “as the fuel for innovation and social change.” Data is critical in evaluating programs, demonstrating the need for new services, and helping nonprofits build an airtight case for support.

As CEO of the Chinese American Service League (CASL)—the largest nonprofit in the Midwest serving Asian American, Native Hawaiian, and Pacific Islander (AANHPI) communities—I’ve seen how high-quality data can transform a nonprofit’s understanding of and ability to serve at-risk populations, as well as how collaboration enables us to serve our communities more effectively.

Data to pinpoint needs in specific communities

Unfortunately, government survey data does not accurately represent “hard-to-count” at-risk populations who are less likely to speak English or to trust the government—which includes many of the people nonprofits like CASL serve. In addition, such data sets frequently aggregate more than 50 diverse AANHPI ethnic subgroups under the monolithic label of “Asian Americans.” This practice makes it harder, if not impossible, for us to adequately advocate for diverse communities and demonstrate their unique needs.

For example, aggregated data from the U.S. Census suggests that Asian Americans have a median household income of $108,700—significantly higher than the national median of $75,580. Based on that, funders may assume that AANHPI populations are universally well off. This can lead to funding shortages: A 2021 study by Asian Americans/Pacific Islanders in Philanthropy found that AANHPI communities receive just 20 cents of every $100 awarded by foundations.

But the limited disaggregated data available shows that Mongolian, Burmese, and Marshallese households make less than half of the Asian American median. If we do not document the different needs of each group, the most at-risk and under-resourced communities will continue to fall through the cracks.

In 2020, CASL began administering annual client surveys focused on social determinants of health. These surveys have given us a deeper understanding of how socioeconomic conditions contribute to health outcomes in our community and allowed us to pivot our operations to make a greater impact.

We found striking data points, such as that only 54.5% of respondents felt safe in their own neighborhood “all” or “most of the time” as anti-Asian hate rose across the country, highlighting a need for mental health supports and community safety efforts. We also found nearly 20% of respondents aged 45-64 did not have checking accounts, revealing that our older clients needed more financial literacy programming to avoid slipping into poverty.

Read the full article about using data for under-resourced communities by Paul Luu (he/him) at Candid.