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Nonprofit

Using GIS Mapping to Tell a Better Story

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Social Workers and other nonprofit professionals are regularly called upon to improve transparency and prove that their work is having some effect on the communities that they serve. It is also important that nonprofit professionals understand the needs and influences of those communities. Gathering this data can be tedious ,and analyzing it can be even more of a challenge. Once you overcome those hurdles, it creates a pathway to reporting the information in a way that tells an effective story, and GIS mapping is one of the tools that can assist you with this process.

What is GIS Mapping?

Example of a GIS Map

Example of a GIS Map

GIS Mapping is a tool that many other disciplines use for a wide variety of purposes. Programmers use the software to develop maps for games or simulations. Ecologists use it to study plant and wildlife populations and migrations. Human service providers can use GIS maps to learn about the communities that they work with.

GIS Maps can show a great deal of data in a way that is easily recognizable and understood. You can track the number of people who live in a set radius that use your services. You can track demographics- age, race, gender, income, etc. You can even track other service providers in the area to identify assets and gaps. The picture posted with this article shows access to green spaces for minorities in LA. If it’s geographically based- you can track it and tell about it.

Where does the information come from?

Many nonprofits are already using database software, such as SalesForce or Raiser’s Edge, to track demographics and statistics of their clients, volunteers, and donors. Adding those numbers to a GIS Mapping software is as simple as exporting the file from a database (or creating your own using Excel) and uploading it. Sure, there’s more to it than that but essentially- that’s all it is. The file needs to be structured a certain way (e.g.: [street address], [city], [state], [zip]) and it has to be the right type (.csx). The SalesForce database I personally work with does this automatically. It’s likely that many others do as well.

Your agency’s personally gathered information is then layered onto a special geographical map file called a ‘shapefile’.  Shapefiles contain geocoded information including: GPS, streets, boundaries, and more. Those shapefiles are available on many government databases for free. For example, to find a shapefile for San Mateo County, a quick Google search of ‘san mateo county shapefile’ led me here. The Census hosts a large wealth of information broken down into just about any possible way you’d want it- and pretty much all of it is possible to export into a GIS Map. Data broken down into counties, cities, jurisdictional districts, and even neighborhoods is available for your use.

What Can Nonprofits Use This Information For?

GIS maps are able to show impacts, needs, and assets. They can help you answer questions such as:

  •  “What is the relationship between service provider’s locations and the population they serve?”
  • “What public transportation options are available for my service community?”
  • “Where have we lost consumers? What’s different about their locations?”
  • “What problems do people in this neighborhood report that the next one doesn’t?”

Maps are easy to understand and show more information. Showing someone a pie-chart of the cities you serve isn’t as powerful as being able to break it down by neighborhood. Readers can point to where they live and think- “Wow, people I live near need these services too”. Maps click with people in a way that graphs and charts can’t.

Where Can I Get GIS Mapping Software?

Probably the most popular and potentially most versatile platform is Esri’s ArcGIS.  You can use this on a computer or mobile device. It’s about $2,500 a year for what most nonprofits will use- discounts may be available for 501c3’s.

There are other Open Source projects that are free, and sometimes provides support through an online community of users. A popular Open Source GIS program is QGIS : http://www.qgis.org/en/site/

You can see a great comparison of popular GIS software on Wikipedia.

Shapefiles and data files are available all over the place. The Census has a wealth of information on demographics. Local (or not so local) universities collect data in their Urban Planning departments that they are usually generous in sharing. I can speak to the University of Michigan offering this information to non-students. You can usually find specific state or county shapefiles on their government websites. If the geographical file is too large, you can only find a state shapefile despite needing a county shapefile, you can cut out the parts you don’t need and use geocoded information such as census tracts.

What are the Downsides to GIS Mapping?

GIS mapping requires the ability to use a computer. It requires time and an understanding of the information you’re trying to display. Some people are turned off by having to learn newfangled things.

GIS Mapping is limited to geospatial data. If you’re trying to show an outcomes that isn’t somehow tied to a geographically based variable, GIS is not for you.

Esri has taken the time to write a little report specifically on the uses of GIS in human services. If you’re interested in learning more, I suggest you check it out.

Rachel Lendzion obtained her MSW from the University of Michigan where she studied Community Organizing and Nonprofit Management. She is strongly interested in the intersection of technology and social change. Her background includes work with transitional aged youth and persons without stable living conditions. She hopes to forward her career through nonprofit development and marketing. You can learn more on her website: www.RachelLendzion.com For regular posts on the use of technology and social work, follow her on Twitter.

3 Comments
Lindsey Lindsey says:

Really great article on using GIS to improve social services. The trick is getting management to pay attention.

Entertainment

The Y Wants Everyone to Take a #SelfieWithSomeoneNew

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Today, the YMCA of the USA (Y-USA) is launching a new social media campaign, #SelfieWithSomeoneNew. Inspired by the Y’s new “Us” national campaign creative, #SelfieWithSomeoneNew is an opportunity to highlight how the Y uniquely brings people together. To help raise awareness for the campaign, the Y will partner with long-time member and supporter, actor Ethan Hawke.

Photo Credit: (YMCA of the USA)

The Y is encouraging people to meet someone new, strike up a conversation and discover what they have in common, then, take a selfie and post it to Facebook, Twitter or Instagram using the hashtag #SelfieWithSomeoneNew and tag @YMCA.

Whether it’s a new neighbor down the street, a parent at your child’s school or a person you see every day on your commute home, the Y hopes people will take a few extra moments to get to know one another in order to build a stronger, more connected community.

To encourage participation, the Y is partnering with Oscar-nominated actor, Ethan Hawke, a long-time Y member and former Y camper. To help drive momentum, Hawke will be taking a selfie with someone new at his local Y while encouraging others to do the same.

“I am excited to support the Y and help shine a light on the work they do,” said Hawke. “They are so much more than a gym. They create community. I started going to the Y as kid when my parents didn’t know what to do with me all summer. Since then, the Y has been a staple in my life; my refuge when I am an out of work actor, or the place that has taught my children to swim. I hope we can raise awareness about everything the Y does in communities all over the country.”

Because of the Y, people who may not have met otherwise, come together, whether they are kids in an afterschool enrichment program, adults in a cancer survivorship group or families volunteering. These are natural and easy ways for people to find commonality and even unity among perceived differences.

“For more than 160 years, the Y has brought people together – no matter their differences – and helped build stronger, more connected communities,” said Kevin Washington, President and CEO, Y-USA. “#SelfieWithSomeoneNew is a great way to illustrate how we can all take small, but meaningful steps towards unity with something as simple as a photo.”

The Y is one of the nation’s leading nonprofits strengthening communities through youth development, healthy living and social responsibility. Across the U.S., 2,700 Ys engage 22 million men, women and children – regardless of age, income or background – to nurture the potential of children and teens, improve the nation’s health and well-being, and provide opportunities to give back and support neighbors. Anchored in more than 10,000 communities, the Y has the long-standing relationships and physical presence not just to promise, but to deliver, lasting personal and social change. ymca.net

For more information on how to participate in the Y’s #SelfieWithSomeoneNew campaign and to learn more about the Y’s “For a better us.” campaign, visit ymca.net/forabetterus.

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Disability

How Disability Culture Can Inform Mentoring Girls with Disabilities

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Photo Credit: Big Sister Association

I am a social work intern at the Big Sister Association of Boston. This is a unique organization, as it is the only gender-specific branch of Big Brother Big Sister in the United States. This is also an important fact as research suggests that girls experience mentoring relationships differently than boys do.

Additionally, research suggests that girls have gender-specific needs that can best be addressed by gender-sensitive support. One of the values of the Big Sister Association of Boston is cultural responsiveness, as the agency finds it important to learn about and embrace cultural differences – and this is where Disability culture comes in.

Disability social workers Romel Mackelprang and Richard Salsgiver discuss the emergence of Disability culture and assert that it is not only an identity but a ‘way of life,’ similar to race or ethnicity. I feel that it is critical that when conceptualizing how to be cultural responsive that Big Sister mentors keep Disability in mind as a type of culture. Recognizing Disability culture is important because we work with Little Sisters ages seven through twenty, as well as volunteer Big Sisters over the age of eighteen, and any of these girls and women may have a disability.

In addition to being aware of the language and history of Disability culture in order to show respect, we must also understand that there is a community aspect of Disability culture that can have great social benefits for the people we work with. The goal of our mentoring program is to strategically match girls with mentors who have similar interests and experiences as them. Therefore, making an effort to match girls and mentors with disabilities can have the added benefit of sharing an understanding of a common experience and culture, therefore making the match relationship even more impactful.

In their book, Romel Mackelprang and Richard Salsgiver share the story of Carolyn and Marnie, two women who met and “developed a sisterhood formed from shared circumstances….their self-concepts and meanings they ascribed to their disabilities were similar.” Further, the authors note that Carloyn and Marnie had “few or no role models with disabilities, their disabilities were defined as negative, shameful…were isolated from others like themselves.”

The concepts of sisterhood and community are two more of the Big Sister Association of Boston’s values, and increased confidence is an outcome goal held by the program. As the relationship between women can be so powerful, it is important that Big Sister staff recognize this potential and thoughtfully seek to make matches between women and girls who share experiences as people with disabilities.

Big Sister Association of Boston values gender-specific programming, and it is important that this specificity carries over when thinking even further about what it means to not only be a girl, but to the intersection of being a girl with a disability in our society.

One way that Big Sister staff can work on developing knowledge about Disability culture as it relates to girls could be perusing the Gimp Girl website. As a refresher, the Georgetown Health Policy Institute defines cultural competence as “the ability of providers and organizations to effectively deliver health care services that meet the social, cultural, and linguistic needs of patients.”

The Gimp Girl website can be used as a resource for Big Sister staff to assist them in the task of continuously working on their cultural competence by becoming fully informed about the views and needs of girls with disabilities in particular. As a non-disabled person, I have permission to access articles and presentations on the site and join their online public forums. The website also includes links to many blogs written by and for girls with disabilities, which can raise awareness of the most current issues and interests of this particular community.

Tuning into Gimp Girl can help me practice cultural responsiveness by making me aware of the issues and concerns of interest to this population in order to most effectively meet the needs of girls with disabilities in a respectful and accessible way. Realizing that some people might prefer the term ‘gimp’ to the term ‘disabled’ might be important for Big Sister staff to realize vis-à-vis the debate between whether to use person first or disability first language.

The website will also help staff to practice cultural humility by reminding them that girls with disabilities have distinct and individual needs, as they describe what it means to experience the intersection of gender identity and disability. Reading about girls’ varying experiences will encourage Big Sister staff to consistently check their own biases and assumptions as well as maintain their position as learners when interacting with girls.

In addition to increasing any given Big Sister staff members’ knowledge and awareness about Disability culture, staff will also be able to share this website with Little Sisters if they are not familiar with it. Our agency constantly provides Big Sisters with information, resources, and activities they can use when spending time with their ‘Littles,’ and this website could be a great resource.

Big Sisters could explore the website with their Littles to find blogs that their Littles can relate to, or even help Littles join a Support Meeting in the online chat room. I think this resource is something that can benefit all of our staff and the girls and women we serve – and perhaps this will be true for you as well!

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News

NBC Nightly News Headline on the American Red Cross is Deeply Misleading

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Photo Credit: @Redcross Twitter

Recently, NBC Nightly News with Lester Holt headlined a story entitled “American Red Cross Fails to Pay Funds Promised to Many Harvey Victims”. The report discussed the failure of the American Red Cross to disburse funding to the victims of Hurricane Harvey. As a volunteer with Red Cross, this report raised my concerns for several reasons, and I immediately contacted them in order gain some insight into the causes preventing the Red Cross from distributing emergency funding.

According to the American Red Cross website, the primary function of the charity is “providing relief to victims of disaster, blood to hospital patients, health, and safety training to the public, or emergency social services to U.S. military families.” For more information on how the American Red Cross spends its donations, you can visit their website. After speaking with staff, I am now able to provide some clarity on the issues causing the delay with the disbursements.

Website Crashed

The website crashed from the 1 million displaced people trying to access it (plus repeat tries). Not only is the Red Cross attempting to aid those displaced by Hurricane Harvey, they are also handling an equally major crisis in Florida due to Hurricane Irma. Both Hurricanes have left a destabilized communications infrastructure with limited wifi and cell phone access in which to process aid. Everyone in flood areas is also still fighting the shaky access and embattled communication infrastructure in place. Many residents were showing up at the Red Cross HQ in hopes of gaining connectivity through the Red Cross. Unfortunately, the office has been experiencing the same connectivity issues.

Headlines about “High Overhead” feed into Confusion for Donors

When donors don’t understand that upgrading systems and IT staff, hiring volunteer coordinators and trainers, and other administrative staff duties are necessary to make it possible to handle 1 million plus displaced victims in multiple disasters at the same time, it breeds confusion and misinformation. The American Red Cross is not a governmental agency, but it is responsible for the bulk of relief efforts when a disaster happens. With Congress continuous cuts to FEMA, the American Red Cross will not be able to continue mass scale relief if they are denied donor support due to misinformation. This is a dangerous way to share information about life-saving charities. Without the American Red Cross, who else is equipped to handle natural disasters on this scale?

Emergency Funding

The $400 funds allocation from the Red Cross is an attempt to fill the gap that insurance and governmental delays create for desperate families. However, the reality is that it is dangerous to have volunteers standing on street corners handing out cash. However, this crisis may help the Red Cross identify innovative ways to distribute funds to help expedite funding to families. Currently, funds are being distributed to local centers like Wal-Mart for a more orderly disbursement. However, each disbursement center in affected areas is also still dealing with their own infrastructure issues.

At the end of the day, the American Red Cross is an organization run by 90% plus volunteers working at least 15 hours per day in harsh conditions because they want to help others. More paid employees would help with consistency and efficiency (deployments are only weeks long), but it would also create higher overhead in which donors don’t want.

With all of the disaster pile-ons we are experiencing with even more looming in the distance, we need to take a good look at our charities and how we expect them to function like a governmental agency or corporation while relying on donor support. How does the Red Cross run operations that cover a million people in a single disaster without the funding to hire people at salaries that will attract those with the talent and the willingness to risk such public scrutiny?

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