More than ever, youth-serving nonprofit organizations are being called upon to fill an unprecedented need to serve young people, left in the wake of a global pandemic, a national economic crisis, and a historic racial justice movement. However, funding for the work is uncertain, and as history shows us from the previous economic crisis in 2008, grant opportunities are likely to become more competitive.

A recent study from Social Solutions, “What Youth Development Funders Want,” data shows that funders place a high priority on grantees that can measure their impact:

  • “With 83% of Youth Development funders placing Impact in their top three considerations for funding, it’s clear that your organization should know how to showcase impact.”
  • “More than 3 in 4 Youth Development funders (78%) cite Outcomes as an important determinant of a Youth Development organization’s Impact.
  • “Nearly 9 out of 10 funders prefer data with reporting! And the importance of data cannot be understated, with 68% of funders planning to increase reporting requirements in the next five years.”

Foundation Reporting Study: What Youth Development Funders Want, Social Solutions, 2020.

In order to be competitive in grant applications, youth-serving organizations need to be able to measure and demonstrate their impact. Hello Insight is dedicated to bridging the equity gap in evaluation through our affordable, research-backed survey tools. We make evaluation accessible so that all youth-serving programs can easily integrate measurement and ongoing learning, gathering the type of data-driven outcomes funders want to see.

Here are four tips for how Hello Insight members to best use their data when applying for grants.

1: Align your impact story with the Positive Youth Development framework

Use the Hello Insight logic model to help tell your research-based story of impact. By aligning your story with a research-based framework, you’ll demonstrate how the data in your Hello Insight reports measures your ability to help young people develop, even in this time of uncertainty.

Each tool is based on a similar research-based theory- when young people have access to research-based positive youth development (PYD) experiences, they will develop social and emotional learning (SEL) capacities (short-term outcomes) that have been shown to promote long term outcomes. Social and emotional learning is increasingly becoming the most significant indicator of youth development programs’ success because it has the highest potential for predicting positive long-term outcomes. And further, we know that when youth experience key positive youth development (PYD) practices, it promotes SEL.

Example of how to describe this logic model in a grant proposal

“In the face of current societal economic, environmental, and social challenges, the promotion of these non-academic skills is seen as more critical than ever before with business and political leaders urging schools to pay more attention to equipping students with soft skills such as: a positive identity, social skills, self-management, social capital, academic self-efficacy, and a sense of contribution – often referred to as SEL or “21st Century Skills” (CASEL, 2015). To meet these needs, we integrate key research-based practices that have been shown to promote these types of outcomes for young people. In addition, these skills are regularly assessed to assure that each young person is on a pathway toward success.”

Sample Adapted Logic Model from Hello Insight Member: Camp Fire USA

2: Tell how you will use Hello Insight data to measure, evaluate and increase your impact.

Your organization can stand out from others by using a non-biased, “third party” to evaluate their programs. Hello Insight provides statistically validated tools and analytics that use rigorous measurements of outcome growth, benchmarked growth, and the quality of young people’s experience in programs. It’s essential to use an external tool like Hello Insight because it allows you, and funders, to have an objective way to measure your impact and reflect on how to improve.

Describe how you and your staff generate reports at the start and end of each program cycle, identifying areas of success and improvement. Funders tend to focus less on  “perfect” outcomes each program cycle, but rather on your organization’s ability to continually measure and increase your outcomes. The data Hello Insight generates for you is crucial to funders, but how you use the data to improve matters most in grant applications.

Ultimately, funders want to know how their grant will help increase your impact. Using a validated tool like Hello Insight allows you to make a more compelling case for how they will know that their funds have made a difference.

3: Seek out funding opportunities that support PYD/SEL outcomes

We see a shift more broadly in how we determine a young person’s preparedness for adulthood. From private and community foundations to local and federal government initiatives, more and more funders seek to fund PYD and SEL because of their strong correlation with positive long-term outcomes. As you seek out new funding opportunities, search for grants with terms that relate to:

  • 21st-century skills
  • Character development
  • Non-cognitive skills
  • Resilience building
  • Protective factors
  • Developmental assets
  • Whole child approach

While the definitions may differ from funder to funder, the capacities and experiences in your Hello Insight reports can align and “map over” almost every impact area that seeks these types of outcomes. Most standard, large-scale grant RFPs retain their “areas of impact” from year to year. This means that,  when researching a potential grant, look up the outcomes from past RFPs and then align them with the measures in Hello Insight reports.

4: Prepare for grant opportunities coming out next year by starting to gather outcomes data this year

If you plan to apply for a grant opportunity next year, you’ll need to begin evaluating this year to have a full set of data going into applications. This way, you can state that you are already using Hello Insight as your outside evaluator and will continue to do so in the future.

Funders want to know how you will use data to measure your impact, but they also want to see outcomes data that you’ve already captured in programs. To be eligible for consideration, most public grants, such as 21st Century Learning Centers, require valid program data that has already been collected.