The Power of Data-Driven Storytelling

CASE STUDY: Anchorage, AK: In Spring 2015, Best Beginnings discovered they had been completely eliminated from the Alaska state budget. Since the majority of their operating revenue comes from the state, a complete cut could mean closure. They knew they needed a way to tell their story. They turned to e-CImpact.

Many Communities, One Mission

Based in Anchorage, the largest challenge Best Beginnings faced in 2014 was how to efficiently and effectively connect and support a statewide network of community partners doing the work on the ground. Some areas served by partners are so remote they’re inaccessible by road.

Best Beginnings wants all children in Alaska to begin school ready to succeed, but they can’t do it alone. At the time, the organization worked with partners in 113 communities spread out across the largest state in the United States, all focused on two major initiatives – Early Childhood Partnerships and Imagination Libraries. Together the network of partners collectively served more than 23,000 young children that year.

Best Beginnings also wanted to expand shared measurement across partners to better assess their collective impact, but staff were busy supporting a growing a network of community partners, running public awareness campaigns to educate community members about the importance of early learning, and advocating for policy changes at the state level. Finding time to add anything else seemed impossible. e-CImpact was selected and deployed; the timing couldn’t have been more perfect, because Best Beginnings soon discovered they would need a way to tell a powerful story in order to survive.

Finding an Innovative Solution

Prior to e-CImpact, Best Beginnings’ partners still submitted paper applications and reports, yet were asking for online reporting. Staff spent hours organizing and compiling information. It worked when the network was small, but as the network grew the administrative burden it placed on staff reached a tipping point. While the organization and its partners were thriving, they knew they needed a more efficient and effective way to accomplish their goals, including finding a way to:

• Nurture connections with community partners and volunteers
• Easily manage their annual grants to community partners
• Gather data to assess the individual results for each partner quarterly
• Aggregate data to show the collective impact of the entire network
• Build partner capacity around resource development and performance reporting
• Collect information for the state of Alaska, their primary funder

“Reaching our partners so we can help them move collectively toward shared goals is critical to our success. We just needed the right platform to do it.”
Laura Cisneros
Best Beginnings
Partnerships Director

“Best Beginnings is a private-public partnership focused on mobilizing people and resources. We provide technical support, network support, training and funding. I used e-CImpact before and knew from experience it would save us and our partners so much time and allow us to include volunteers in funding decisions. My first request was to purchase the system.”
Laura Cisneros
Best Beginnings
Partnerships Director

A New Way of Doing Business

With e-CImpact, Best Beginnings could change the way they do business. To work smarter, not harder.

Now they can easily capture data from funded community partners and nonfunded partners who voluntarily enter data into the system to get a full picture, like service levels, progress toward goals, standard outcomes and amount of leveraged funding.

The application, allocation and reporting features of the system meant they could eliminate paperwork, improve the quality and timeliness of information, and get real-time aggregate data about the impact their work has statewide.

No more late or incomplete reports or applications. The system manages everything for them!

With a streamlined system in place, Best Beginnings staff could turn their attention away from enforcing requirements as a ‘funder’ and toward their real focus- supporting and advocating for partners as the ‘backbone organization’ of a statewide movement. When funding decisions were made, volunteers from the community participated. The system is so user-friendly they didn’t receive any questions!

“Volunteers from the community participated for the first time using unbiased, strategic data. Our volunteers felt connected to the work in a new way.”
Laura Cisneros
Best Beginnings
Partnerships Director

Telling a Powerful Story

Nationally, funding to expand and enhance early learning opportunities has increased significantly over the past decade as policymakers and private donors recognize the long-term return on investment. In Alaska though that trend was about to change.

In Spring 2015, Best Beginnings discovered they had been completely eliminated from the state budget. Since the majority of their operating revenue comes from the state, a complete cut could mean closure. They knew they needed a way to tell their story. They turned to e-CImpact for help. “We were able to quickly access aggregate data in e-CImpact so we could show the impact of the statewide network, including the number of children that would be affected and how state dollars helped leverage with funding. We didn’t have to spend hours digging through files and emails. Just a push a button to run the report. We also used the client success stories collected in e-CImpact so policy makers could understand the importance of our work at an individual client level.”

As a result of the information collected, Best Beginnings was able to get partial funding reinstated in the state budget.

“We were able to quickly aggregate data so we could show the impact of the statewide network.”
Laura Cisneros
Best Beginnings
Partnerships Director

Future: Based on Data-Driven Decisions

Best Beginnings now faced the challenge of adjusting to a 67% funding cut.

“We knew we needed to make some difficult decisions, and wanted them to be data driven. With e-CImpact we could evaluate the data and consider the administrative time we saved as a result of having the system. We knew the 23,000 children touched by Imagination Libraries around the state was our greatest impact, so that’s where we decided to focus our attention”, stated Laura Cisneros.

Historically they supported two initiatives – Early Childhood (EC) Partnerships and Imagination Libraries. The EC Partnerships were broadbased multi-sector coalitions in 6 communities. The Imagination Libraries were based on an international program and offered free books every month to children under the age of 5. Thanks to Best Beginnings’ support, the program was running in 33 libraries serving 113 communities. Based on the data, Best Beginnings elected to consolidate their staffing down to 1 FTE to support both initiatives and eliminate funding for the EC Partnerships.

Community partners also use e-CImpact to adjust to the new reality, using the system to improve their grant writing, collect performance data and improve outcomes to help secure other funding sources. As Best Beginnings looks to the future, they are hopeful that state funding will be completely restored and that they will be able to reestablish funding for the EC Partnerships. They also plan to continue to align partners around shared goals and measures in e-CImpact to further strengthen their impact across the state.