When I entered the nonprofit field a few decades ago, I would often hear the expression, "What doesn't get measured, doesn't matter."
Nonprofit organizations play a crucial role in addressing social challenges, but to sustain and grow their cause or impact, they must measure and communicate their effectiveness. Impact measurement and reporting are essential for nonprofits to demonstrate accountability, attract funding, and drive continuous improvement in their programs.
So, what exactly is impact measurement?
Impact measurement is the process of collecting relevant data and evidence to assess the outcomes and changes generated by a nonprofit's programs. It involves tracking key performance indicators (KPIs), conducting evaluations, and using both quantitative and qualitative methods to understand the real-world difference the organization's work is making.
While telling the story of the mission is important, there must also be evidence that the methods in place to serve the mission actually work. Here are a a handful of ways to ensure that your plans and goals to make an impact are both quantifiable and quantitative:
1. Define Clear Objectives and Outcomes
Begin by defining clear program objectives and desired outcomes. This can be done by setting SMART Goals, these are goals that are specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound.
2. Identify Key Performance Indicators (KPIs)
Selecting appropriate KPIs or measurement goals is crucial in measuring true impact. These KPIs should align with the organization's mission and they can include various aspects such as the number of people served, improvements in quality of life, behavioral changes, or financial status. Whatever the KPI's they should reflect the priorities of the program. and indicate whether the program or service is effective. In other words, they should answer the "so what" questions. For example, the individual completes a skills-based job training program, such as carpentry or IT Troubleshooting. One of the KPI's might be the person attaining a certification that is necessary in getting a job in that industry. Another KPI might be that the person gets a job using that certification. The third KPI might be that they are making a certain wage above what they previously made without the training and certification.
3. Use Data Collection Tools and Methods
To effectively measure impact, nonprofits should use reliable and efficient data collection tools and methods. This can include participant and employer surveys, interviews, and data obtained from internal tracking systems or methods. Again, it's important for organizations to collect both quantitative and qualitative data to gain a comprehensive understanding of their impact.
4. Conduct Regular Evaluations and Assessments
Nonprofits should conduct periodic evaluations of their programs to measure progress and identify areas for improvement. This can involve internal evaluations or external reviews conducted by independent evaluators, such as accrediting bodies. Participant and stakeholder surveys and interviews are excellent tools to gauge the effectiveness of the programs and services offered.
5. Show and Tell
Transparency is not only important it may be required as a condition of funding and accreditation. Nonprofits can share their data through an annual report sent to their stakeholders and placed on their website, through an impact report of some kind, in a newsletter or by submitting data via a third party like Guidestar. Additionally, participant stories provide an inside view of the impact on a person, a family or community. Data combined with storytelling is a powerful tool that provides transparency that will open doors for others to support the mission.
By effectively measuring and communicating program impact, nonprofit leaders can strengthen their organizations, attract resources, and drive positive change in the communities they serve. Impact measurement is an ongoing process that requires dedication, investment, and a commitment to learning and improvement. Maximize your impact and create a culture of accountability and transparency that supports long-term growth of the organization for years to come.