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Performance measurement: ‘Super metrics’ can prove your nonprofit’s effectiveness

May 12, 2017

By Jayme F. Moore, CPA
Accounting & Auditing Manager

Everyone, it might seem, wants to know how effectively your nonprofit is fulfilling its mission and running its operation. Outcome measurement — essentially a way to determine the impact of a program or activity — can provide interested parties with proof that you’re doing your job well. Unlike traditional measurements, such as number of clients served or amount of donations received, these “super metrics” allow an organization to assess whether a program is achieving its intended results.  

Defining the terms

An “outcome” is generally described as a specific desirable result or the impact of a nonprofit’s services. Meaningful outcome measurements should gauge the level of accomplishment of a program goal in terms of changes in the lives of individuals, families or the community at large. For example, a program designed to help return unemployed mothers to work by improving their job-seeking abilities might measure the number of job interview requests these women receive compared to how many resumés they send out.

An outcome measurement program requires an organization to identify appropriate outcomes and indicators of those outcomes. It also involves the collection of data relevant to the indicators (for example, by client surveys or interviews with program dropouts) and the analysis of that data. And, of course, the organization must take appropriate action based on those findings.

Measuring ‘super metrics’ has many benefits

Some nonprofits have built excellent skills at outcome measurement in order to improve relationships with grant makers, donors and other stakeholders. But learning to produce meaningful measurements has many benefits besides supporting revenue development.

Outcome measurement can act as a check for board members, staff and volunteers that the nonprofit is successfully working toward meeting its mission and goals. A side benefit: Measuring and reporting outcomes can shift the focus away from how resources are being allocated, such as the percentage of funds spent on “program-related activities.” Achieving sustainable success may stimulate investment in such non-program-related activities as training, leadership development and strengthening internal controls.

The results of “super metrics” measurement should be shared with existing and potential stakeholders to show the impact of the organization’s programs and activities and, in turn, support marketing and fundraising efforts. The results also can prove helpful with short- and long-term planning — it becomes easier to identify effective programs and activities, as well as those that need improvement, when you have hard metrics.

Making measurement meaningful

Outcomes need to be measured on an ongoing basis. Rather than examining client effect or other conditions only shortly after the completion of service, a nonprofit also should return to evaluate the effects at regular intervals.

Additionally, you won’t be able to measure every important outcome immediately. Some outcomes take years to materialize. In such cases, it may be possible to identify milestones to measure progress against as time goes by. So-called “soft” outcomes — for example, stronger relationships between teachers and parents — can be difficult to measure but still merit regular consideration.

Prove it!

Stakeholders today often scrutinize a nonprofit’s outcomes to see if it is performing the way it says it is. Super metrics provide a way to substantiate your impact.



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