Using Technology to Measure Impact- Q & A with Snapstory’s Jessie White
Technology is slowly changing the way charities measure impact, by giving them tools that make the collection, storage and analysis of program data more efficient. This helps with addressing a huge amount of issues faced by most nonprofits. Last season, Philanthropy Ireland hosted Jessie White from Snapstory at our Members Networking Event. Jessie took our members through her work partnering with NFPs as they expand on technology’s role in measuring the impact of their work.
Here Jessie takes us further through the role technology is having in the NFPS, its role in measuring impact, and the benefits technology has for the donor when it comes to assessing the impact of a gift.
1.What is Snapstory? Where did you get inspiration for Snapstory?Snapstory is an enterprise software that we developed exclusively for nonprofits. It is comprised of a mobile application for collecting data in the form of photos, audio and various text-based surveys, and a web-based admin panel for accessing that data.
We got the inspiration for Snapstory through working with a number of charities on digital storytelling campaigns. Most notably, myself and my co-founder AJ worked on WaterAid UK’s 2012 The Big Dig campaign. In that campaign, we trained two local NGO workers to use Instagram to tell the stories from the field. We used Instagram because at the time it was the most readily available technology, and because it worked fairly well in areas of low bandwidth. After using various tools like Facebook, Tumblr and Twitter in subsequent campaigns, we realised that nonprofits needed a tool that was fit for their M&E and storytelling purposes. AJ had founded a creative agency called Studio Misfit four years previously that I had joined in 2011 after a few years working in the third sector. So we brought a wealth of experience from both the tech and nonprofit worlds to the creation and development of Snapstory.
2. How does Snapstory allow charities and non-for profits to collect and monitor data gathered from the field?
A user can create custom surveys in the browser-based admin panel and choose from a range of different question and answer types. Once the surveys have been created, a field worker can immediately access these surveys in the Snapstory app on their Android phone, and quickly and efficiently answer the questions with a few clicks. Once submitted, the data gets synced with the Admin panel, and can be viewed seconds later by anyone logged into the admin panel. The baseline data of an individual subject is collected the first time they are entered into the database — this date includes their name, date of birth, gender, profile image. It also includes a signature approving the collection of their data, making Snapstory compliant with GDPR and protecting the data of the individual. Once an individual is in the database, they can be searched for and updated without having to re-enter their basic information — which makes data collection much more efficient.
3. How can this information be beneficial for charities and non-for profits?
It can be so difficult to get exact and secure data from programs. But if nonprofits can start to do this in a more systematic and efficient way, they can more easily assess the impact of their programs and communicate that impact to donors and stakeholders. This data can help charities to understand how a program is performing in both the long and short term, and allow them to make data-driven decisions when planning future programs.
Real-time, authentic stories can help bridge that divide between donor and beneficiary, and give donors insight into the day-to-day lives of the people they support. There is a worryingly high level of donor distrust, which nonprofits desperately need to address. Collecting robust data and authentic stories can help to show donors where their money is being spent and how it is making a difference. This goes a long way to repairing some of that distrust.
4. How does Snapstory share the authentic stories of local people with the rest of the world?
Snapstory allows nonprofits to easily and efficiently collect stories — and to get permission from the subjects of those stories at the point of collection — and stores them in a protected database for fundraising and marketing teams to draw from. It is up to the nonprofit using Snapstory to decide what photos to share and when. But the ease of story collection through the app, and the speed with which the stories are available in the admin panel, means the content can be distributed to donors within minutes of being collected.
5. What are some of the obstacles you faced when first implementing Snapstory?
There are always obstacles when implementing new technology, and these can manifest in a variety of ways. Some of them are practical obstacles, like figuring out the strategy to successfully deploy Android phones to a field team in a remote area; or figuring out who will be responsible for maintaining the system; or deciding what to do when that person leaves the organisation. But the most difficult obstacles are ideological ones. Change is scary for any organisation, and when that change can include implementing a new technology with a third-party local NGO in a remote developing world country, the most important and difficult obstacle to overcome can simply be the instinct to be defeatist in the face of new challenges.
6. How successful has Snapstory been so far? Are there any success stories?
We have just completed our Beta testing phase, and Snapstory has performed beautifully. We wanted to develop his product slowly and carefully, to ensure we were building something that the sector needs, rather than just making assumptions about how to build it. There have been some fascinating stories along the way, including the discovery of an ongoing case of fraud that it would have been impossible to prove without the hard data collected by Snapstory. We recently successfully deployed Snapstory with a large child sponsorship charity and connected the database (using complicated tech wizardry that I won’t bore you with here!) to a landing page that pulled the top-level data of a randomised child and presented it to donors so they could sponsor that specific child — rather than being shown an image of a child then having to wait six weeks to be sent a photo of their sponsored child in the post. We also collected audio of the child saying hello in their local language, and laid this over a photo of them holding up their drawing that they had made, to send to their sponsor. We are so proud to see Snapstory helping to solve real and tangible issues that we observed time and time again in the sector, and we are very excited to deploy it next year with nonprofits working in a variety of areas, to test its range and push our creativity in terms of developing new features.
7. What effect does using technology in this way have on the overall operations of a NFP?
It can help in a number of areas. It depends on the specific issues facing the organisation, because every nonprofit is different. Choosing the right technology to address those challenges can make an organisation more efficient, more transparent, more organised and more accountable. This can help foster deeper trust with individual donors, give them a greater chance of winning that next grant bid, or simply improve communications between internal teams.
8. How important is it that charities and non-for profits start embracing technology?
It is immensely important, and something I am personally passionate about. In other aspects of my career, I work with a lot of Silicon Valley companies and I see them snapping at the heels of nonprofits in this area. Their ability to identify gaps in the market and build technology to fill them has led to the rise of crowdfunding sites like GoFundMe, Kickstarter, Indiegogo, etc. They have correctly identified that it is increasingly important for a person parting with their money philanthropically to know the story of the person they are giving to, which is why individual fundraising campaigns on crowdfunding sites have been so successful. However, a lot of these fundraising campaigns bypass the charity and give straight to the individual — which is great for the individual, but a trend organisations should be watching closely and trying to learn from. Research overwhelmingly suggests that donors would give more if they felt a direct connection to the people their donation is helping.
9. What role can donors play in encouraging NFPs to embrace technology?
I think donors are demanding more transparency and accountability from the charities they support. In a world as connected as ours, they (understandably) assume that charities should be able to tell them more clearly about the impact their donation is having. Of course, a lot of charities are amazing at this already — but nonprofits that know they have room for improvement in this area should listen to what their donors want to see in terms of stories, and learn from the organizations that are assessing and reporting their impact effectively. Technology is just a tool to help address these issues. The main thing that I would like to see is the incorporation of this stance into the culture of the philanthropic sector as a whole. This is happening, but it’s slow.
10. Donors have shown an interest in measuring the long-term impacts of a gift. What role can technology play here?
Technology can be incredibly helpful here. If nonprofits adopt the digital collection and storage of program data as standard, over time, this data can be fed through analysis tools that can prove the long-term impact of programs. There is nothing more powerful than being able to give quantifiable evidence to a donor that their financial sacrifice has made a material difference to the lives of real people and communities. It can also really help organisations to make data-driven decisions about how to improve their programs to make even more impact.
Find out more about Snapstory:
Snapstory are still in private beta, so the best way to learn more about what they do is to contact Jessie directly at firstname.lastname@example.org and she would be delighted to schedule a time to chat.