At this writing, a Google search on nonprofit impact returned “About 85,500,000 results.” There’s a whole new industry of Impact Evangelists.
There’s a reason for this, of course; recognizing and measuring success and progress requires attention. An organization’s assumptions can become invisible and its methods stale. As in all human activity, we can get self-focused, comfortable, or distracted by activity rather than results. Our focus on mission can drift, and our vision can be limited by our unconscious desire to remain comfortable. This is all normal and forgivable.
Gauging progress is part of our conversations about nearly everything – last night’s fundraiser, this month’s program launch, an individual’s performance, and so forth. Much of this is informal conversation (and still important); and there are times when formal assessments are made, such as annual reviews, Board reports, and project evaluations.
There are four methods commonly used by mission driven organizations:
- How well do we meet our goals?
The metrics for this are often the outputs from the project or strategic plan, as well as unplanned achievements.
- How well do we acquire resources?
Most focus on growth in money, property, influence, staff/volunteers, status, and relationships
- How well do we operate?
How much output the organization had in comparison to the resources it used.
- How satisfied are our constituents with us?
This is a combination of anecdotal input as well as systematic feedback through surveys and constituent behavior (such as repeat visits).
Organizations develop habits as default methods for measuring success. The habits can be woven into the culture so that they are virtually invisible to insiders, or they can be explicit.
Individual managers and Board members have preferences for one or more of these four, based on personal temperament, professional norms, and experience. This difference can spark a productive conversation on the topic.
A dialogue based on curiosity rather than judgment, and collaboration rather than competition, will often lead to a great deal of learning (and faster meetings).
Good questions to ask about this include:
- At this point in time, how best can we measure progress on our mission and vision? What’s the desired impact on the social condition we are in business to address?
- What are our habits and assumptions regarding how we measure success?
- Is there a gap between #1 and #2? What is it? How can we close it?
- Are there differences of habit and assumptions between the Board, management, and staff? If so, should we address it?