As an adjunct faculty member of Northeastern University’s School of Nonprofit Management, I teach a graduate level course on measuring impact. I instruct students on the methods, strategies and tools that professional evaluators use. Nonprofits should be as invested as funders in determining if the intervention funded succeeded. Though challenging for nonprofits with limited staff and resources, evaluating impact, no matter your size, is critical.
Funders’ number one complaint is our lack of ability to effectively measure impact. To radically improve your organization’s relationship with individual, private, corporate, and government funders, enhancing your evaluation skills is a game-changer. Impact data should influence organizational strategic planning, allocation of resources, and accountability. The best nonprofits and proposals are always evaluating results and measuring impact. Including a robust description of your evaluation metrics strengthens your credibility with funders. Given the diversity of nonprofits and the communities they serve, no generic measurement metric will work for all, but every nonprofit can learn the tools needed to effectively evaluate, report, and course correct. Learn why and how using the 5-steps below.
Why are measurement, evaluation, and reporting crucial steps for your organization?
Measurement, evaluation, and reporting are crucial tools in the strategic planning process. By setting benchmarks, collecting impact data, analyzing data, and reporting to stakeholders, nonprofit organizations can ensure that they meet the goals of their current strategic plan while also improving their future strategic planning. Improved data collection and evaluation will inform decision making and positively impact best practice strategic planning. Established benchmarks and constant data collection allow for early course correction by identifying which programs are thriving and which need to be revised or eliminated.
As tax exempt organizations, nonprofits have an obligation to report data, maintain transparency and hold themselves accountable in the pursuit of their mission. In societies where nonprofits enjoy considerable public subsidies, these organizations have a societal duty to serve critical public functions. Nonprofit organizations are responsible for measuring their impact and reporting to all stakeholders including members, funders, volunteers, and the community. Stakeholders need to know that their valued resources are well spent, not just well intentioned.
Funding & Development
In combination with storytelling, quantitative and qualitative data are crucial means of strengthening your nonprofit’s case for support. More than ever, prospective donors, foundations, and funders are requiring impact data as part of the nonprofit-funder relationship. Measurement and evaluation help your organization brag about your work in terms that external parties can understand.
Collective impact is the result of multiple activities or initiatives that can have a greater impact on stakeholders than any single intervention. Measurement, evaluation, and reporting are all crucial steps both in maintaining and engaging in collective impact with like-minded nonprofit partners. Organizations that can qualify their own impact are more successful in finding complementary nonprofit partners and proving the value of their partnership.
How to effectively implement a measurement, evaluation, and reporting learning loop:
1. Identify goals and objectives
What is the purpose of data collection for your organization?
What measurements can help you achieve your mission?
What SMART goals has your organization set?
What measurements can help you achieve these goals?
Specific – clearly defined
Measurable – easily recorded, scaled and compared
Attainable – not only possible but reasonable
Relevant – reflect your organizational mission
Time-based – able to be achieved in a fixed timeframe
2. Define data needed to achieve these goals
What data will be collected?
What benchmarks need to be established?
What methods will be used to collect this data?
Identify available and required resources
Develop a data collection plan
Obtain baseline data for benchmarking
Consolidate and analyze data
Compare data to benchmarks
5. Communicate results to stakeholders
What stakeholders does your organization report to?
What methods of reporting will best serve these stakeholders?