by Sheri Chaney Jones
“That is what every nonprofit needs, but can’t afford.”
This was said to me by a nonprofit director when I was describing that my organization helps nonprofits measure and communicate their impact and value. She is not alone. Many nonprofit leaders incorrectly perceive program evaluation and data-driven decision making as a luxury they cannot afford.
My new acquaintance is correct that every nonprofit needs to be engaged in program and outcome measurement. Organizations with high measurement cultures systematically collect and use a variety of data to manage operations and demonstrate effectiveness. Organizations with high measurement cultures are significantly more likely to report increases in positive press, funding, efficiency, staff morale and organizational change.
The nonprofit director was also correct that a perception exists among nonprofit leaders that they cannot afford measurement activities. This perception prevents organizations from engaging in these critical tools. Although eighty-one percent of nonprofit leaders surveyed by the Center for Effective Philanthropy believe nonprofits should demonstrate the effectiveness of their work through performance measures, our research reveals that only 32% of nonprofits are fully embracing a high measurement culture. Lack of funding and resources are often cited as the main obstacles.
There is good news. This perception is a myth! No correlation exists between organizations successfully using data to demonstrate effectiveness and a nonprofit’s budget and size. In other words, there are several small nonprofits excelling at program evaluation and then there are very large organizations not using or collecting the required data.
How nonprofits demonstrate and communicate effectiveness is a predictor of organizational success. Demonstrating impact is becoming increasingly more important as funders shift toward outcomes-based funding. Nonprofits excelling because of their data-driven practices go beyond using performance measures and outcomes data as an external reporting tool. They have the right measures, organizational structures, and leadership in place to systematically use these data to manage programs, make improvements, and demonstrate their unique impact and value.
Greatness starts with the commitment of an organization’s leader to move from having data to achieving excellence with data. Here are three distinct features that separate the “great” from the “good enough.”
1. Defining Success: Great organizations measure success based on the distinct impact they are making and the effectiveness of their services delivered relative to their resources. In addition to measuring participants served, money raised, and activities performed, they measure outcomes -- the extent their programs and services have changed lives and circumstances for their participants, stakeholders, and communities.
2. Leadership: Great nonprofit leaders never take their eyes off the mission. They lead with humility and passion for the mission and do whatever it takes (ethically) to fully realize this mission. They align their measures with this mission. Great leaders use these measures to make course corrections when results are less desirable. Data are also used to celebrate success when desired targets are met.
3. Culture: Great organizations consistently strive for a high-performance culture with a foundation built on performance and outcome measures. They do this by hiring and retaining the right people for their organizations. They understand that talent can compensate for lack of resources, but money never compensates for lack of the right people. To keep the right people, they create systems based on data, learning, feedback and autonomy. These elements encourage, motivate and reward their high-achieving, positive, self-motivated team members. They avoid the “doing more with less” syndrome by seeking the right people and creating the right data-driven systems that naturally produce more with less.
Great nonprofits let go of the excuse that performance and outcome measurement are “too expensive”. Instead they ask, "How can we achieve our desired impact and excellence?" Measurement is an essential tool that helps nonprofits achieve greatness regardless of organizational size and budget.
The first step toward excellence is to create and use success measures. Once this commitment is made, organizations find the resources needed to successfully engage in the activities. Those who are successful know that performance measurement is achievable, can fit within their budget, can be done with their own staff, and will lead to positive results!
Measurement Resources helps organizations successfully collect, organize, and use impactful data so they can fully achieve their missions. Clients save public dollars, demonstrate effectiveness, and increase revenues as a result of working with Measurement Resources.