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Understand comparative standards, then set targets of your own

You've identified specific outcomes important for your organization and a list of performance indicators to help assess your progress. That's a terrific start. Here, we'll help you strengthen these with performance targets โ€” specific, measurable achievements to aim toward those indicators.

For context, imagine a community garden initiative:

  • Outcomes describe an increase, decrease or continuity in terms of behavior, skills or knowledge. Example: Increase participants' knowledge of growing organic produce.
  • Indicators are the things you see, hear, count, measure, report or otherwise track as data to show you're making progress. Example: Report on how many people start home gardens after their introductory class.
  • Performance targets are specific levels of achievement related to your outcomes. Example: Lead three gardening workshops a month in the target community.

Understanding comparative standards

How does your organization stack up against other nonprofits with similar missions? Are you meeting fundraising targets in your field?

Comparative standards measure your success against other organizations, time periods or your own baseline scores. Example: Increase our community garden's funding from city councils and other regional sources by 10 percent over the next 10 years.

Some fields already have built-in comparative standards that can provide an opportunity to measure yourself. In the medical field, for example, you can study infant mortality, teen pregnancy and other health-related issues across countries and time. But human services and other subjective fields can be harder to quantify. Many organizations find it helpful to focus on using their own previous performance as a standard, comparing last year to this year or this year to the next.

Developing targets

Aim to select targets that will help you correlate your organization's internal indicators with progress measurable in the wider world. Remember that you aren't guessing what you can achieve. You're determining realistic amounts of improvement in scale with where you are now and where you want to be.

Do you need to meet specific industry standards? Do you want to increase your community's involvement? Is there specific information you need to impart on a regular basis, such as delivering ongoing classes?

Strong targets identify the practical measures needed to generate the data you'll use to study your indicators. So, what kind of data do you need? That depends on what you're trying to track. As you begin formulating your own performance targets, consider the best way to collect the information you need.

Many organizations use some combination of the following four standards:

  • Surveys. These are a cost-effective way to gather a significant amount of information from a large group. Results can be emailed, copied and viewed by the entire organization, if needed.
  • Interviews or focus groups. These are helpful if you need to ask complex questions or you want the opportunity to ask respondents to expand on their answers.
  • Observation. A favorite method in scientific fields, observation is a good choice if you want to study first-hand, unbiased results of either individuals, groups or events.
  • Record review. This involves collecting data such as financial documents, reports, activity logs, and purchase orders from internal, external and community-wide resources. If data is readily available, record review is a great place to start because it usually doesn't require a lot of up-front capital.

Aiming high

Practice generating several targets for each of your performance indicators. What will you do in the great wide world to sway people to your cause (both now and 10 years down the road)?



MissionBox editorial content is offered as guidance only, and is not meant, nor should it be construed as, a replacement for certified, professional expertise.




Writer and firm believer in using business as a tool for positive change