By Julie Holdaway

Published in the Orange County Register on October 28, 2013

Sometimes hard, cold numbers can help your cause. Here are some great sources that happen to be free.

It's true, I am a data nerd.

I wish I were adorable and cool like Sheldon or Leonard of "Big Bang Theory" fame. Instead I'm just the kind of goofball who loves to pour over facts and data. Show me a great infographic and I get giggly.

As much as several of my recent articles focus on storytelling, data, stats and numbers are as important. Stories pull at our hearts and move us to support a cause, while numbers justify that decision. Whether you are referring to numbers or dollars, numbers confirm: "Yes, this is a good investment."

Being a nonprofit data nerd is not about being an Excel ninja. It is about leveraging knowledge, which we collect directly, called primary data, along with information that others collect, known as secondary data.

Primary data can be expensive. It takes staff and time to collect. Can you imagine being the person who determined that preschool attendance is a significant contributor to high school graduation? That person had to collect and manage data collected over 13-plus years.

Secondary data is collected by someone else. The Internet has transformed the business of research, making databases, reports and studies readily available. Below are a few resources available that are focused on local data, and causes, that affect all our nonprofits. This information is invaluable, yet free:

  • The U.S. Census provides rich data on populations nationally, statewide, regionally and by city and ZIP. It provides amazing information on wealth and poverty, home-ownership, economics, demographics, employment, and much more.

  • Annie E. Casey Foundation's "Kids Count" database tracks 16 key indicators of child well-being.

  • For over 18 years, the Report Conditions of Children in Orange County study provides a comprehensive picture of the present condition of children in Orange County.

  • The Orange County Community Indicators Project annually measures the overall quality of life in Orange County b tracking business climate, community health, education and public safety.

  • Orange County Community Foundation's "Connect OC" focuses on safety net, health and wellness, and education issues.

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