Impact measurement often strikes fear into charities, large or small. It is something that organisations are increasingly expected to do, yet it can be difficult to know where to begin. As impact began to gain traction in the social sector a decade or so ago, interest in and activity around tools and techniques to measure it also began to grow.
To demonstrate that your charity is really changing people's lives, you need some way of assessing your work. Government and private funders are increasingly concerned with getting maximum value for their money, targeting their funding to the charities which achieve the most change. Charities who can show clearly what they are achieving are at a real advantage. Furthermore, charities who address a need for impact measurement by proactively opening up conversations are likely to impress funders. Proposing sensible ideas on good impact measurement show you take it seriously, and that you are doing it for the right reasons.
For some charities, performance measurement can serve as the answer to many of their prayers. In these cases, data can provide the critical component that will allow them to showcase their efforts and successes to their funders and other constituents while also helping them increase capacity and improve return on investments.
If you’re a charity CEO who is rolling your eyes while reading this, you’re probably not alone. This vision of non-profit utopia seems far removed from the actual reality of effective charity performance management and finding charity performance measures that are useful and attainable is not easy. However, it is possible to find performance management metrics that enable your organisation to both prove that you have effective management in place, are experiencing successful financial performance, and that the efforts your staff and volunteers are exerting are truly moving towards meeting your mission.
To identify such performance metrics, you must answer the following five questions about whether your charity:
1. Tracks outcomes years after serving people, or only annual accomplishments?
2. Measure program outcomes against relevant benchmarks, averages or control groups?
3. Complete independent evaluations of program effectiveness?
4. Survey beneficiaries about program quality and impact?
5. Pursue specific and measurable organisational goals and can these assist/inform front line staff in their day to day work?
If finding performance measures has been keeping you up at night, keep reading to learn the secret to developing your own performance measures worth tracking.
The first metric charities need to consider, is how efficient they are at mobilising their resources. Because charities range drastically in size and scope, sometimes simple metrics like pounds raised or members served can be red herrings, drawing attention away from the actual issue at hand. These metrics could include fund-raising performance, membership growth, and market share. The current standard of categorising expenses into programs, fundraising and administrative/overhead speaks to this kind of metric, and the idea of a common outcome framework is already becoming more visible and solidified within the charity arena.
Staff Activity The second kind of metric is probably the most straightforward; measure what your staff are doing with their time. Understanding the organisational inputs, not just in terms of money but also in terms of time, is critical for being able to draw the connection between efforts and outcomes later on. Thankfully, as management software has improved, collecting this kind of data has become substantially more straightforward. Employees can now track their output immediately, increasing effectiveness and accuracy. Tracking these kinds of charity performance measures is a no-brainer. Mission-Based Measurement
Saving the best for last, we all know that tracking progress against a mission is an absolutely key component of effective management for charities. But that’s usually easier said than done. While it might make sense to narrow or reframe one’s scope to make it more quantifiable, this is often not practical or reasonable to expect of charities, especially those whose goals are around affecting significant social change.
Another possible tack here is to collect evidence, usually on a large scale, that demonstrates there is change in the world that is correlated with the mission of the charity and has some plausible connection to their efforts. This leaves much to be desired as a standard of measurement. Correlation is not as valuable as causation as a form of proof, and even this kind of research could come at a large cost, both in terms of time and money.
So what’s a charity to do? While some organisations suggest utilising micro-goals to help break down one’s mission into measurable pieces, there is another part to the puzzle that is often overlooked. Creating measurable, actionable micro-goals is important, but having the right tools and strategies for measuring these outcomes, connecting them directly to efforts, and being able to pivot the organisation in order to stay in alignment with the broader mission are all absolutely critical for success. Selecting key performance indicators is an important first step, but it’s the moment when these measurements are brought into alignment with the big picture that actually signifies change.
Hopefully by now it’s clear that no single metric is going to solve all of your organisation’s operational challenges. Finding the right performance measures can take some time and effort, and there’s no one-size-fits-all answer to the challenge. However, with the right technologies, such as Gallery’s Apricot Software, and an ability to keep an eye both on the end goal and on the smaller, more attainable steps along the way, your organisation can thrive in both improving efficiency and continuing to attract valuable funders to the cause.
A note about Apricot by Michelle Dawson, Living Life Service Manager at Middlesbrough & Stockton Mind
“Apricot software goes beyond case management needs and gives us the ability to clearly communicate the impact of our organisation. Apricot offers a variety of services giving us the ability to put a large focus on outcomes and community impact. We can better understand what goes into a successful outcome plan and how to increase our successes each year. By receiving these insights, we are able to make better-informed decisions about where we should allocate our resources for future programming. Apricot allow us to understand fully who we are working with. We can compare data across projects. We can mix and match outcome strands in line with our seven organisational outcomes. We are better able to identify strategic operational, technical, and outcome-based objectives, so that we can maximise our technology’s capabilities to meet our organisation’s outcomes, data collection, and reporting needs. And finally all of this saves us money.”