“Nonprofits working to quantify the good they do.” By Katie Johnston. Boston Globe. August 15, 2012. Three years ago, Janet Iraola was a single mother struggling to pay her bills. Today, Iraola, 36, has paid off her car loan and a few credit cards, earned a bachelor’s degree in human services, opened college savings accounts for her four children, and started putting away money for a house. Iraola was able to achieve these goals through Crittenton Women’s Union , a Boston nonprofit that helps low-income women gain financial independence, partly by collecting reams of data about their debt, credit scores, savings accounts, salaries, and grade-point averages. The women’s progress is compiled into aggregate reports, which case workers analyze to find patterns of success and failure. The results are shared with them as a group. Crittenton is part of a wave of nonprofits that are using methods favored by for-profits, such as keeping detailed databases and measuring outcomes. The business-like approach has been in use at some nonprofits for some time, but it became more important during the recession, when donations dropped and assets eroded. Since then, more charitable foundations and government agencies have been demanding hard evidence that the programs they support better people’s lives. Social service organizations that previously relied on instinct are gathering more information about participants, seeking outside analysis, and tracking their effectiveness to improve their performance — and prove their worth. When Crittenton Women’s Union was formed in 2006 by a merger between two 19th-century social service agencies, records were kept on paper. At the time, newly appointed president Elisabeth Babcock could not even tell how many clients her organization was serving. Then Crittenton started diving into data. In addition to tripling the number of students graduating from its GED program and attracting new donors with its results — even as it lost government funding — the Boston nonprofit is now training other local agencies in data management. It also leads a working group of 34 local nonprofits interested in comparing their measurement methods.