Elevate conference helps Alabama nonprofits learn best practices

Elevate conference helps Alabama nonprofits learn best practices
Ann Emery of Emery Analytics was the featured speaker at this year's Elevate conference for Alabama nonprofits. (Billy Brown / Alabama NewsCenter)

About 300 representatives of nonprofits, businesses and communities networked at the fifth annual Elevate conference as attendees learned the importance of data and how to share it most effectively.

The conference kicked off June 29 with a reception and dinner in Birmingham.

“The networking portion of Elevate is extremely valuable for attendees,” said Myla Calhoun, vice president of Charitable Giving at Alabama Power. “I can’t tell you how many instances there have been where our Elevate partners have used these networking opportunities to form lasting partnerships and meaningful ways to join forces.”

Elevate 2017: Helping Alabama nonprofits be more effective by using data from Alabama NewsCenter on Vimeo.

Throughout the conference, the Share Your Story booth was open. Attendees gave their name, position and an overview of what their organization does. Participants received a recording of their sharing experience to use for their websites, blogs or social media.

Ann Emery of Emery Analytics was this year’s featured speaker for the conference business session. She is an expert on using data, and shared data visualization best practices.

“We use data to give us and others insight on the things we can’t always see,” Emery said when asked why data is important.

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Emery offered a hands-on approach for attendees as she broke down data analytics and visualization in an easy-to-understand, easy-to-use manner. Outlining her presentation into four main strategies — uncluttering data, focusing on a targeted audience, choosing the correct chart, and sharpening the message with colors and branding — Emery shared the best ways to take data visualization to the next level.

“Elevate was a great opportunity to brainstorm with other nonprofits and hear an expert like Ann Emery discuss best practices to share our mission,” said Rachel Weingartner, Development Director for Alzheimer’s of Central Alabama. “After her talk, we were inspired to include more concise graphics in our communications internally and with donors. Her call to action really made sense as a helpful way to tell our story about the hundreds of local patients and their families we support struggling with Alzheimer’s disease and dementia.”

At Friday’s business session, Calhoun, who also is president of the Alabama Power Foundation, shared her team’s plans to shift to a more data-centered grant application.

“One of the most powerful tools we have is data,” Calhoun said. “Combined with effective storytelling, data can better quantify the positive impact that programs like yours have on people and communities.”

As the Alabama Power Foundation and other funders focus more on data and impact measurement, nonprofits will be able to use the skills that they take away from Elevate in the grant-writing and application process. This new process will allow for a more in-depth approach to grant-giving.

While all Alabama Power Foundation applications eventually will expand to include more specific questions, one of the first applications to test the new format is the Elevate grant application. Bruce Andrews, director of the Shelby County Arts Council and a previous Elevate grant recipient, noted that the move toward data is important.

Each year, the foundation awards up to seven Elevate grants to nonprofits across the state. These grants focus specifically on nonprofit capacity-building and offer more than financial assistance. The grant consists of a $10,000 grant in the year that it is awarded and a $5,000 challenge grant the following year.

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Most unusual is the grant’s training feature. Each Elevate grantee attends two workshops in the year after the grant is awarded. The focus of these workshops changes depending on challenges facing the nonprofit community; past topics have included board of director’s development, general best practices and data visualization.

The conference concluded with an announcement of this year’s Elevate grant applications, which opened Thursday, July 13 and will be available until Friday, Sept. 1. A sample application showing the grant program’s expanded data-centered questions is available at www.powerofgood.com.

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