If there is one thing we have learned at the Chinese American Service League (CASL), it’s that data has the potential to revolutionize the way we look at philanthropy and change the landscape for years to come.

No longer are heartfelt appeals for funding and support enough for nonprofit organizations like CASL. Now, philanthropists want clear data demonstrating an issue — and data about how your organization’s solutions will effect change.

It’s undeniable that data-driven, evidence-based projects have reached the philanthropic mainstream and that data is critical to philanthropy in the 21st century. Some of the largest charitable organizations in the world — from Bloomberg Philanthropies to the Rockefeller Foundation — are making investments in data and leveraging for impact.

Data is causing an “evolutionary shift” in philanthropy, researchers at the University of Texas at Austin wrote in 2018, leading organizations and individual donors to increasingly view data “as the fuel for innovation and social change.”

The problem is that research and analytics can be a major drain on resources. Since I became CEO of CASL in 2017, we have rapidly expanded both our service offerings and our staff. But the bigger an organization grows, the more necessary data becomes to ensure we are making the greatest impact possible.

With 26 programs and almost 600 employees, CASL is the largest nonprofit social service agency serving Asian Americans in the Midwest, but we have still had to make massive investments in our data infrastructure in the last few years.

Beginning in 2020, CASL began issuing annual surveys to our clients, focusing on Social Determinants of Health (SDoH), a type of data point that provides greater context regarding how different socioeconomic conditions contribute to health outcomes. The surveys have given us a deeper understanding of our clients, allowing us to pivot our operations to make the greatest impact.

For smaller organizations, sound data may not be in the cards at all, or it may be a long-term goal that will leave them playing catch-up. That’s why, after seeing the impact SDoH had on our organization and community, we decided to expand this resource to smaller organizations that would benefit from it but do not have the necessary in-house resources.

In Spring 2022, CASL launched Change InSight, a data consortium that aims to empower organizations across the nation to collect data on the communities they serve, helping them tailor their services, efficiently secure and designate resources, and more successfully lobby for change with local, state, and federal policymakers.

Change InSight is a first-of-its-kind initiative. As a national data platform focused on SDoH, it is a direct answer to the plague of aggregated data, which has been labeled as one of the largest civil rights issues facing Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) populations today.

Read the full article about using data by Paul Luu at The Center for Effective Philanthropy.