Whether you’re looking to secure more funding, engage volunteers, or launch a new program or service, you need to know exactly how successful your nonprofit is at achieving its goals. Ineffective performance measures, however, can lead to inaccurate insights and cloud your decision-making. 

For nonprofits, the best performance measures help you and your stakeholders clearly understand and assess your community impact. Follow these four strategies to select the right performance metrics for your organization: 

  1. Choose Measures That Align With Your Goals
  2. Choose Measures That Consider Your Stakeholders
  3. Choose Measures That Evaluate Your Impact
  4. Choose Measures That Help You Tell Your Story

By selecting the right performance measures, you will be able to strengthen your data collection practices and pinpoint places for growth and development in your nonprofit and community at-large. Let’s dive in!

1. Choose Measures That Align With Your Goals

Before you begin choosing performance measures, you’ll want to be clear about the specific goals of your nonprofit and its programs. In other words, ask yourself, your team, and your community: What does success for our organization look like?

SureImpact’s guide to nonprofit impact measurement notes that the answers to this question will often fall into the following categories:

  • To increase stakeholder knowledge or readiness.
  • To change stakeholder attitudes.
  • To reduce an undesirable behavior.
  • To increase a desirable behavior.
  • To maintain a new behavior.
  • To improve stakeholder social status, economic conditions, or health.

Your goals should be SMART (specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time-based) and directly address your organization’s larger mission and strategic plan. Once you have a clear understanding of what your goals are, you can identify the performance measures and data points that will be most effective in helping you assess your progress.

2. Choose Measures That Evaluate Your Impact

The best performance measures should clarify your organization’s social impact. Thus, in addition to choosing measures that align with your mission, you want to select those that actually help you assess the long-term intended (and unintended) consequences of your actions.

In this sense, impact can be measured through a combination of the outputs, quality, and outcomes of your activities. Thus, each of your performance measures should directly answer at least one of the following questions:

  1. Outputs: What was done? How many activities or services have you provided?
  2. Quality: How well was it done? How well did you meet your beneficiaries’ expectations? What went well, and where could you improve?
  3. Outcomes: How are participants impacted? What are the immediate benefitsof your activities?

For example, if your nonprofit provides healthcare classes to low-income individuals, you could collect data that shows how many people your nonprofit has served in the past year, how many completed your classes, and the self-reported changes in their overall wellness they’ve seen in their lives since. Over time, you can compare these results to previous years alongside overall health data in your community for a holistic understanding of your impact.

On the other hand, when you regularly collect and analyze impact-related measures, you can quickly identify challenges, setbacks, and negative impacts of your activities, and take steps to address them.

3. Choose Measures That Consider Your Stakeholders

Your stakeholders are the individuals or groups who have a vested interest in your organization and its success. Because of this, your performance measures need to keep each of your various stakeholders in mind. 

Your stakeholders likely include:

  • Donors
  • Granting institutions
  • Volunteers
  • Staff
  • Beneficiaries

When determining performance measures with stakeholders in mind, ask yourself:

  • What does each group of stakeholders want to know?
  • What are you trying to accomplish with each group of stakeholders?
  • How will this information attract new stakeholders to engage with your organization?

For instance: Are you trying to retain mid-level donors? Are you looking to reach beneficiaries in a new community? Are you auditing a long-standing program for your board?

While some general measures will address all of your stakeholders, such as the number of constituents served or the rate of constituents demonstrating a new behavior or skill, also consider the measures unique to each group. 

4. Choose Measures That Help You Tell Your Story

Your performance measures will form the core of any engaging impact story you share with your community of stakeholders. Your impact story will help show your stakeholders how you are transforming people’s lives, why they should offer you their support, and how they can get involved.

Consider what quantitative and qualitative data points you need to paint a compelling picture of positive change. Every measure you gather for your impact story should be included in your marketing collateral to help keep your mission and outcomes top of mind for your supporters.

In addition to hard data, NXUnite’s guide to nonprofit marketing suggests collecting and incorporating anecdotal stories from supporters about their experiences with your organization into your impact story. Testimonies can help demonstrate how your services are truly changing their lives in ways that data points alone simply can’t.

As you’re deciding on your performance measures, make sure they can be accurately measured with quantitative and qualitative metrics. For best results, for each measure, plan to collect data from multiple sources, including:

  • Your staff and volunteers
  • Your beneficiaries
  • Your nonprofit’s internal systems
  • Your partners and funders

Once you’ve implemented your performance measures, keep a close eye on the data you collect. When you see a change in performance, ask yourself: Have you changed something in your activities that’s had an effect? Do your original performance measures still fit your goals, audience, and actions? If not, it’s likely time to revise your measures to stay in sync with your organizational and programmatic changes.

About the Author

Sheri Chaney Jones, President & CEO of SureImpact

For more than 20 years, Sheri Chaney Jones has applied performance management, evaluation, and organization behavior best practices to non-profit organizations and government agencies to improve outcomes and efficiencies. An author, professor, and internationally recognized expert, Sheri believes in data, metrics, and accountability.

Sheri’s foray into entrepreneurship began with Measurement Resources Company in 2010. Now a national firm, Measurement Resources increases the capacity of non-profit and government sector organizations through high-performance practices and data-driven insights. In 2018, Sheri launched SureImpact to automate and simplify the process of collecting and sharing outcomes and impact data. 

Sheri is a thought leader on public sector evaluation and applied organizational research. She is the author of Impact & Excellence: Data-Driven Strategies for Aligning Mission, Culture, and Performance in Nonprofit and Government Organizations (Jossey Bass, 2014). 

Sheri is passionate about women’s equity and the advancement of girls. She is the Columbus Chapter President of the National Association of Women Business Owners and a Commissioner for the Columbus Women’s Commission for the Mayor’s Office. 

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