Meenakshi (Meena) Das (she/her/hers) is a fundraising analytics and research specialist. She is the founder of NamasteData, a consulting practice that aims to build inclusive and equitable research and analytics solutions. She specializes in designing survey-based research tools, analyzing engagement, and conducting in-depth assessments.
We spoke to Meena as part of our ‘Rising Stars in Philanthropy’ profile series of which we showcase the future faces of leadership in the field.
Meena was born and raised in India and it was at 21 when she first connected the worlds of tech and giving back by giving computer education classes to ex-prisoners and sexual assault victims on the street. It was this initial passion, purpose and dedication to making meaningful change in her community – and one which was underpinned by change grounded in equity and justice – that put her on her path today.
That path today has definitely been illuminated by three major values, all of which complement philanthropy’s role in our community:
1. To acknowledge, accept and voice the causes of inequity in the community.
2. To be willing to fail if it means we can collectively unlearn and learn some fundamentals.
3. To be willing to see people for their overall commitment and not make the giving of dollars the natural synonym to philanthropic commitment.
Values are ultimately what guide us, and Meena has indeed adopted that as a personal mission of her own, and as a consultant thus becomes a guide herself, helping to progressively build our sector to be the best version of itself or at least one that has the foundations of promise to reach its potential.
“I love being a research and analytics consultant. I believe the purpose of research should be two-fold. One, making it meaningfully inclusive for the community we are serving through Philanthropy and two, educating and empowering those doing the work on the ground with research techniques so they ask better questions.”
Asking questions has many different contexts in our field whether the power dynamics between funder and fundee or just performing due diligence to mitigate risk and the most rewarding form of risk our sector should be taking right now is – being willing to experiment and fail fast. Meena leans very much on the latter, sharing that “The sooner we allow ourselves and our teams to try new things, learn from those actions, and move forward, the better we can build our sector post-pandemic. For example, work from home is quickly becoming a global issue for every organization. If nonprofits embrace new ways of collaboration and working willingly, staff retention and engagement could improve.”
And while Meena sees the opportunities for the sector as we find our way through the fog of COVID, she believes that data will be the fuel needed to leave the past 18 months (and the outdated practices of the past) squarely in the rear view mirror.
We mentioned that Meena’s independent consulting practice, NamasteData, builds research and analytics solutions. But what is important to know is her why. She best describes her drive as being a passion for wanting to help nonprofits use inclusive and equitable solutions on the whole spectrum of data collection, the analysis itself, and how that output is consumed. “Any inequity in the spectrum takes us further away from the community we impact through our work. I want to demystify traditional research and analytics solutions (say, engagement surveys) and empower the use of their data to foster meaningful relationships with their constituency.”
And that’s ultimately how the dots connected for Meena as Steve Jobs famously pointed out in his 2005 commencement speech to Stanford University students. It’s all about meaningful relationships that just happen to be powered through education and empowerment – it’s what drove Meena at 21 and what drives her to this very day.
“I think people are the strongest foundation upon which our sector stands. Taking the time to get to know someone – whether they are a prospect researcher from Dallas, major gifts officer from Seattle, or a VP of Impact from NYC – you never know what you might learn from others.
“I dedicate around 2 hours every Friday afternoon to do a 30-min coffee check-in with 1-3 people from my LinkedIn network. One of my regular questions from those chats is “how do you know you are making an impact? And I hear all sorts of exciting responses – including anything from data, donors, and relationships.”
In the end there is no silver bullet to change. But innovation doesn’t have to be new, just new to you and in most instances just applied in a local context. But being open to bringing and listening to diverse voices in the field, whether that’s inviting folks to chat via LinkedIn like Meena or going to a networking event (remember those!), its humans innate ability to connect, to listener and to apply what we learn for the betterment of society.
“Bringing sustainable change is a collective task and perhaps needs many known and unknown names to bring the change we desire and deserve.”
Connect with Meena Das today:
https://www.linkedin.com/in/meenadas/ (and maybe you’ll be able to grab a virtual coffee with her!)
If you know of anyone doing great work or believe someone espouses the values of future focused leadership deserves to be highlighted in this way then please nominate them. If you believe this to speak to you, please, please nominate yourself.
To nominate an individual to be featured please fill in the quick contact form here. Individuals don’t need to be specifically in organized philanthropy either – we hope to cover all facets of the space from planned giving to programming, from fundraising to IT, from nonprofits to activism or those that simply have a passion for giving back.