United Way of the Bay Area does more with less with Tableau Online



India Swearingen, Director of Evaluation and Insight at United Way of the Bay Area discusses how the non-profit uses Tableau Online to make the most of its limited staff, time, and resources.

More insights for less money

Tableau: What's your mission at United Way?
India Swearingen, Director of Evaluation and Insight: Each United Way operates slightly different from the other, but all of our missions are the same as we're trying to alleviate people out of poverty. United Way of the Bay Area specifically, our mission is to cut poverty in half in the Bay Area by 2020.

Tableau: That's an ambitious goal. What sort of resources are you working with?
India: We're working on limited funds. We're working on disparate data systems. We have a lot of challenges when it comes to data. It was really important to have to bring Tableau into our organization.

Tableau: How so?
India: It has saved us time in being able to create something a dashboard that can be consistently used throughout time. So now when I create a graph or our surveys that we do every single year, we already have a framework, we have the dashboard. I can just simply plug the data in there.

Tableau: So you can use the same dashboards year after year?
India: With our program dashboards, once we found the right format for it, once we found the right visual we wanted to use for it, now it's just a matter of connecting or uploading the data for the next fiscal year into that each time.

So on the front end, you're putting in a little bit more time to get it going and to decide on the right visuals, but on the back end, it can save you a lot of time in the long run because it's a sustainable tool. It's something that people can continue to use each time, which saves a lot of time in the long run.

Tableau: How did you manage data prior to installing Tableau?
India: Pre-Tableau days, we still were a pretty data-driven organization in that people within the organization really cared about data and they really wanted to use it to inform decisions. What Tableau allowed us to do is get that information out quicker and faster to connect a lot of different data sources that we didn't have before. To be able to tie that together and actually tell a story is what Tableau allowed us to do.

Tableau: Ultimately, why did you choose Tableau?
India: As a non-profit, we chose to use Tableau Online for probably reasons that a lot of non-profits would be interested in that is that we are working on limited staff and limited resources. And so the ability to not have to host that on our own server has been great and has given us more power to be able to do these things without having to, you know, get more staff and use more staff time to host that server and to use more money. So just having it hosted somewhere else has really just given us a lot more time back, a lot more resources.

Now it's not some boring, wonky report that's sitting on someone's desk, but it's a tool that people can access on Tableau Public and just go to it whenever they want, wherever they have a computer.

"Phenomenal" sharing, better data quality

Tableau: Where does your data come from?
India: At United Way, we have so many different places where we get data, and just a wealth of information that we could be using to inform decision making.

We have data from our programs. We have data from our collective impact movement amongst all these agencies. We have data on our engagements and how people are engaged with us, what they're getting involved with us on.

Tableau: What happened when you started viewing your data through Tableau?
India: One of the many things that's good about Tableau, about using Tableau, is sometimes you plop your data in there and you realize that some of this data is inconsistent with how it's been reported before. And so it has accidentally brought to light some of the data quality issues, which we were then able to have conversations about and improve the way we were either collecting data, the way that data was being entered, and just connect different data sources.

So, for example, one of our programs hasn't been able to see its data year-to-date since the inception of the program.

It was a pretty lengthy process to get all of their data that was coming from so many different sources into one place. It involved a lot of cleaning. But when we connected it to Tableau, we were able to show, “Here's what your numbers look like. Does this look right? And if not, what's happening? Let's figure out where the rest of that data is, what cleaning we need to do, how we're talking about these outcomes, how we're talking about how we're measuring things.”

In every single project I have done across our organization, it's brought to light some issues behind the data. That took a little bit of time to work on that and get it cleaned and make sure that it was right for doing analysis.

Tableau: Has Tableau made it easier for other people in the organization to access the reports you generate?
India: The value that I get from being able to share information to an organization has been phenomenal.

So now it's not some boring, wonky report that's sitting on someone's desk, but it's a tool that people can access on Tableau Public and just go to it whenever they want, wherever they have a computer.

That's going to get a lot more usage for people is just giving them that data in a forum that's interactive and fun to play with.

Tableau: Can you give me an example of Tableau in action?
India: I'll pull from a specific example of a non-profit poll survey that we do every single year since 2005 to gauge how our non-profits are faring in the community, other non-profits in the Bay Area.

Traditionally, we've done this survey and we've just done a report and kind of sent out that static report to the respondents or the people who we solicited. For the first time, we were able to do something that went live and went public using Tableau Story Points. We posted all the questions we would have normally put in a report with text around it to kind of help guide people through understanding it. But now people can really pull the data and use the filters and look at it by different slices of the data, if you will, and to be able to really just have that interactive with them.



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