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Measuring the Networked Nonprofit - a Review

From Confused to Focused

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For a while now, nonprofits have often just jumped into the ocean of social media, throwing a lot of stuff at the wall to see what would stick. But that time is up. We all know the rudiments of social media, what it can and cannot do, and which networks work best for our audiences. Now it's time to tackle the ROI of social media with the tools of measurement.

Two years ago, Beth Kanter and Allison Fine broke new ground with The Networked Nonprofit. That book brought together all the information any nonprofit would need to get started with social media.

Now Beth Kanter has teamed up with Katie Delahaye Paine, a measurements expert, for the follow-up book, Measuring the Networked Nonprofit: Using Data to Change the World (Jossey-bass, 2012).

Kanter has been working on the ROI of social media for a long time. She knew that social media would never be fully mature or even fully accepted until there were clear and effective ways to measure it. This book brings together what is known about social media measurement and applies it to nonprofits.

I have to admit that it took me a long time to get through Measuring the Networked Nonprofit. I'm not by nature a numbers person so I struggled a bit. Also, there are so many great organizational examples, resources, and tools mentioned in this book that I often got sidetracked because I wanted to look at them to really see what was going on. I read the book with my iPad right next to me so I could look things up.

There is simply too much in the book to try to explain even a small part of it, so I'll stick to the most obviously helpful tips and information. Here's what stuck for me.

Let Data Inform, Not Drive Your Organization

Kanter and Paine make the case for nonprofits to be "data informed, not data driven." I think this makes a huge difference, because the emphasis is on interpretation of data, not just collection. That paves the way for nonprofits to focus on strategy, keeps ROI and measurement squarely in the service of your nonprofit mission, and keeps us from being consumed by the numbers.

The authors use DoSomething.org (one of my favorite organizations) as an example of a data informed nonprofit. It is a paragon of using data to "continuously improve." At DoSomething.org, they use data to assess, revise and learn.

Nancy Lublin, CEO of DoSomething, told Kanter and Paine about several principles that help her organization to actually put data to good use. Among those are:

  • Start at the top. Lublin says that her data-informed organizational culture starts with the board, the CEO, and key staffers. For DoSomething, the board happens to be dominated by leaders in the tech field so using data is a natural.
  • Rather than just counting, focus on understanding. The organization uses data to find actionable insights. It's not just a matter of collecting the numbers. They focus on figuring out what numbers are important and then making sense of them.
  • Don't be afraid of failure. At DoSomething, they experiment...a lot. When they fail, they actually celebrate it. They hold regular "fail-fest" meetings where they share failures but then pinpoint what they learned from those failures. They remove the stigma from failing.
  • Spend less time collecting data, and more time thinking about it. They've put someone in charge of the collection of the numbers which frees up staff to spend time actually thinking about what the numbers mean. The goal of the numbers and their analysis is to develop content and campaign strategies, and improve their programs. They use the data productively, rather than being a slave to it.
  • Break down silos. At DoSomething, the people who collect the data are integrated with the rest of the staff. They don't sit in a back room just doing their thing. Everyone shares, asks questions, and knows what the goals are.
  • Celebrate small victories. Lublin says that starting small and running small experiments works. Big victories come from the accumulation of small wins.

From Baby Steps to Full Flight

What DoSomething.org has accomplished illustrates one of Kanter and Paine's mantras: the stages of becoming data informed. They know that not every nonprofit will have a board that is sophisticated about the importance of data, or even a staff that really knows its way around social media, much less measuring it. That's why they promote an easy-to-understand process that any organization can follow. The stages of becoming a data informed organization are these:

  • Crawl. This is still where many nonprofits are. Perhaps they've started using social media, but it's all still a learning process and they may feel as if they are just floundering around. They might collect some data but don't know how to relate those numbers to their decisions. There are likely no systems in place yet, or dashboards, or methodology for their data collection.
  • Walk. Organizations are collecting data but not consistently at this stage. That data may exist in silos with different people and departments collecting but not sharing. The data collected are not linked to mission-driven goals, and what they collect may even be the wrong data.
  • Run. By this stage, there is a system across the organization for collecting data and dashboards are used tracking and sharing. Staff can make decisions based on multiple sources and there is regular evaluations of what's working and what is not. The organization can monitor feedback from its audiences and may work with specialists to help improve its skills. It trains staff about measurement and how to use measurement tools.
  • Fly. At this point an organization has established key performance indicators (KPIs) and uses them across programs. There may be a staff person who is responsible for data, and staff meetings regularly include updates on progress toward achieving goals using the data. There is an organizational dashboard, shared across departments. Failures are embraced as a path to new insights.

The point of this rubric is to make the transition from a data newbie organization to one that is sophisticated about how to use data to improve and move its mission forward. And this isn't all about social media. That is a big part, but being data informed is about being able to use all kinds of data from a wide variety of sources. Nonprofits have to prove their worth over and over...to donors and the general public. Learning how to use the vast amounts of data available today is a big part of being able to do that.

Using the Ladder of Engagement

Does this matter to smaller nonprofits? You bet. And it is doable. Kanter and Paine include many examples of how small nonprofits are using data to help accomplish their missions. Their ladder of engagement is especially helpful.

We all know about the commercial world's marketing funnel. Well, the ladder of engagement is its equivalent in the nonprofit world. It illustrates the stages that people move through to become real stakeholders in your cause:

  • Awareness - when someone becomes simply aware of your organization and what it does.
  • Interest - when a person gets actually interested in learning more about your cause.
  • Desire - for a nonprofit, this might be when someone starts to identify with your cause as something that he or she wants to support.
  • Action - the point when a prospect actually donates, volunteers, shares information about your cause with others, signs a petition, or takes some other action on your behalf.

The ladder of engagement model can be personalized to your organization or even to a specific tool. Here's how John Haydon, a Facebook expert, applies it to that social networking tool.

The key is to move beyond just intuition about what moves a supporter up that ladder of engagement to understanding through data what your organization can do to make that happen.

Measuring the Networked Nonprofit provides guidance to nonprofits about how, specifically, they can move from just guesswork to knowing how to measure what to make progress.

At the end of their book, Kanter and Paine say this:

We know that the world's problems are complex. And we also know that passion alone is not enough. Working as an isolated institution is not enough. We don't want you to waste your most precious resources: your energy, hope, and optimism. And we want your organization to achieve amazing success. Measurement is a path to your mission.

Beth Kanter is the author of Beth's Blog: How Nonprofits Can Use Social Media; and a visiting scholar at The David and Lucille Packard Foundation. Katie Delahaye Paine is the founder of KDPaine & Partners LLC.

Disclosure: A review copy was provided by the publisher. For more information, please see our Ethics Policy.
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