The Johns Hopkins University’s Center for Leadership Education and the Washington, D.C.-based Nonprofit Alliance have announced a partnership to combine Johns Hopkins students’ decision-analytics coursework with nonprofit organizations’ strategic planning. The Center for Leadership Education is part of Johns Hopkins’ Whiting School of Engineering.
At a time when nonprofits are especially concerned about having resources to keep up with soaring demand and rapidly changing service delivery models, Hopkins students are using advanced analytics to help nonprofits speed up strategic fundraising and growth decisions.
The partnership provides nonprofits with valuable resources and students with vital career preparation.
Instructor Adam Treiser began implementing this concept in 2016, when he noticed that teaching many of the skills required of data scientists today call for the use of real datasets, which can be difficult to find. Initially, the classes paired with for-profit enterprises, with students putting into practice skills and knowledge acquired all semester, and presenting recommendations in a final presentation.
“It’s interesting for students to peek under the hood of a large corporate brand and have the opportunity to analyze and potentially influence a business decision there,” said Treiser. “However, those businesses typically have the resources to access similar data science decision making elsewhere. I sought to introduce students to an opportunity to apply the same data analytics skill-set to a nonprofit organization, where we may in fact be bringing unique value and insight to their problem-solving process.”
The Johns Hopkins University’s Whiting School of Engineering and The Nonprofit Alliance will work together to lead the application and selection process to match each class with a nonprofit. The nonprofit organizations, many of which do not have the financial resources or personnel to access this type of analytics, can use the students’ data analysis to help inform strategic decisions, and the students become better prepared for the datasets they will tackle during their careers.
Such a partnership is especially beneficial these days, says Shannon McCracken, CEO of The Nonprofit Alliance.
“Nonprofits are getting pinched at both ends right now. Demand for their services is surging with the public health, economic, and social crises, putting exponentially more pressure on fundraising,” she said. “We are excited to be able to offer our members this service free of charge from a renowned institution like Johns Hopkins University. This is the type of commitment to our sector that our association strives to cultivate.”
In this first semester of the partnership, The Nonprofit Alliance worked with Treiser to define the profile of a suitable case study partner and then recommended one of their members, an animal-focused organization located on the West Coast. That organization seeks to evaluate the lifetime value of donors acquired through its direct marketing fundraising program to determine whether the organization should continue to invest at current levels or redirect spending to other priority programmatic initiatives, such as starting new chapters. Students are analyzing several years of gift history, donor retention rates, and the costs of acquiring and retaining donors via online and offline channels in order to make recommendations to the organization at the end of the semester.
Going forward, The Nonprofit Alliance will formalize an application and selection process for its nonprofit members.
“The focused, independent analysis of internal and marketplace data that Hopkins students can provide over a one-semester time span is a valuable proposition for nonprofit organizations that are at a pivot point in their strategic investment growth cycles,” said McCracken. “We expect that our member organizations will offer interesting challenges for data analytics students, and in turn receive valued business recommendations at little to no expense to the organization.”
McCracken also mentioned another factor motivating her association’s partnership with Whiting School:
“Nonprofits represent more than 10 percent of private sector employment in the United States, and that doesn’t include for-profit marketing agencies and consultancies that primarily serve nonprofits. It’s a sector hungry for bright, young talent in fields like data science and this initiative is a way to accelerate student interest in nonprofit sector career choices.”
About Adam Treiser
Adam Treiser is a lecturer at the Johns Hopkins University. He teaches Business Analytics and has helped grow the curriculum to include Decision Science. He is also founder of Arjuna Solutions, an artificial intelligence company that helps nonprofits. Recently, he was commissioned to deliver to the closing address at the United Nations to speak on the topic of “AI for Humanity”.
About The Nonprofit Alliance
The Nonprofit Alliance exists to foster the development and growth of nonprofit organizations and to protect the vital services they provide, as well as the donors, members, partners and volunteers who support them. Members represent a diverse landscape of causes and include industry experts who help nonprofits in their public outreach, fundraising and resource development. For more information, visit tnpa.org.
About Shannon McCracken
Shannon McCracken is CEO of The Nonprofit Alliance and The Nonprofit Alliance Foundation, serving nonprofit organizations and partner businesses. She was formerly Chief Development Officer with Charity Navigator, a nonprofit evaluator used by donors to guide giving decisions, and Vice President of Donor Development with Special Olympics International.