Measuring the results of your nonprofit's programs is not easy, but it is crucial. Knowing how effective your programs are will guide your long-term planning, help you to correct course, and reassure your donors that your organization is worthy of support.
New Philanthropy Capital, a consultant to philanthropists, is in the business of evaluating charities and making recommendations to their wealthy clients about where to invest their philanthropic gifts. Their advice to charities about measuring results include these tips:
- Stick with what you know. Don't make measurement any harder than it needs to be. Stick to what you are passionate about as an organization. Talk about impact that anyone can understand. You don't need to become abstract and theoretical.
- Think in terms of change. What does your organization seek to change in its community, people's lives, socio-economic conditions, health-care policy, the environment? Figure out the change you seek to bring, and then how to measure those changes. When you succeed in changing the status-quo, that is an outcome...the outcome you and your supporters want to see. Make sure you capture it.
- Keep it simple. Better to measure just one or two aspects of your program's results, that are at the center of what you do, than try to measure everything. You'll only spread your efforts too thinly and have less to show for it.
- Ask, "So what?" Numbers alone don't prove anything. You might provide job training to 5,000 people, but what has that done to improve their lives? What can those people do as a result of what you provided? How many of those clients actually got jobs and improved their lives as a result? Follow your actions to their outcomes.
- Collect a variety of data. Don't be a numbers snob to the exclusion of stories, or the reverse. Value both qualitative and quantitative data. Get feedback from clients and beneficiaries. Collect stories and testimonials.
- Ask and ask again. Find out how your services work by asking the people you serve. Ask frequently, using surveys, interviews, and simple questions posed in a variety of settings. Follow up at intervals to measure immediate, mid-term, and long-term effects.
- Gather information for at least three audiences. Measure results while keeping in mind your internal needs (your board, long-range planning needs); your funders (grant makers and donors); and your general stakeholders (your users, the public, volunteers, the media). Collect/measure results that can be used in all of these settings and with all these audiences
- Put adequate systems in place. When you start measuring and collecting data, you'll need someplace to collect, analyze and store all that information. Set up spreadsheets, get a database, or develop an online system.
- Treat measurement as an investment. It will take time, work and funds to measure your outcomes. But it will pay off in so many ways, from increased confidence in your organization to better funding to improved programs for those people who benefit from your work.