Base outcomes decisions on long term impact goalsIn the nonprofit world, competition for grant and donor money can be intense. Small organizations may struggle to generate the additional resources needed to study outcomes — yet outcomes measurement is critical. Taking time now to develop a plan for how you'll fund outcomes tracking will have a long-term impact.
Clarify outcomes resources
Consider the outcomes you want to measure. Do you have a sense of what you might need to get started? A truckload of sticky notes? A consultant to advise you on statistical analysis? Divide your needs into categories to better assess where you'll need to invest.
- Staff time. Will one of your current staff members take on on the additional work of championing and documenting your outcomes process? Or will you need to hire a dedicated staff member? Or a whole team? Chances are you'll also need to budget additional time with your current staff to collect data and orient them on any new initiatives.
- Consultants or other outside help. Depending on the complexity of your organization, you might need to hire additional help. The right consultant can help you stay on track or bring new energy to an old mission. For smaller projects, you might consider asking a volunteer to take on a temporary role during this process.
- Communication methods. Would your organization benefit from tools to simplify internal communication, such as an instant messaging program? Or perhaps databases that can be easily updated and accessed? Investments in communication technology may pay off in time savings.
- Supplies. Now's the time to think about how you're going to collect the data you need. Are people filling out surveys by hand (pencils, paper, erasers)? Or meeting in small groups (snacks, leader, comfortable room)? Your data collection plan will dictate which supplies you need.
- Marketing. How will you tell the world about the wonderful changes you've made? Consider if you'll need to launch a major rebranding campaign or run a print of a new logo. The size of your organization will help determine the scale of your marketing needs.
Overcome outcomes obstacles
At some point, most organizations struggle with some combination of the following three outcomes obstacles. Learning to recognize them can help you avoid getting mired in unproductive struggles.
Competition for grant money
As competition for grant money increases, you might be tempted to apply for grants that are only tangentially connected to your core mission. If you win any of these grants, however, you might find yourself with funding specified for a new chicken coop when you really need new cedar beds for the garden. You'll then find yourself needing to invest in tracking outcomes in this area, though it's never been a priority for you.
Instead, refrain from applying for grants that aren't a good match for your mission. To bridge the divide, you might initiate partnerships with other like-minded organizations — either co-applying for funding or agreeing to collaborate. For large grants, you might need to seek three or four partners. If only a fraction of the grant criteria apply to your organization's mission, see if you can put together a regional partnership or new initiative that would draw attention to other local nonprofits.
Each source of nonprofit funding often requires a different type of reporting. Recording and managing the necessary data can be a time-consuming and repetitive task.
To maximize reporting efficiency, study your current methods. Are all members of the team doing what they should be doing? Are some people clearly suited to particular tasks? Are the tasks divvied up effectively? Is anyone doing unnecessary or overlapping tasks?
Scattered or limited resources
Many organizations struggle to keep track of participants, information and donors spread around the world. These scattered resources can be hard to mold into one cohesive campaign. Equally challenging, some organizations lack even basic resources. They end up spending all their time trying to make ends meet, rather than working toward their impact statements.
In both cases, it's important to evaluate if you're actually working to resolve the root causes. Scattered resources will always be scattered until they're gathered together under the umbrella of a new project. If you're scrambling to pay rent on your nonprofit's conference room, it might be time to consider downsizing.
Keep an eye on your long-term impact goals and evaluate everything against them. What moves you closer? What moves you further away?
Free Management Library: Basic guide to outcomes-based evaluation for nonprofit organizations with very limited resources by Carter McNamara
Strengthening Nonprofits: Measuring outcomes
Meera: Outcomes and impacts
Gallaudet University: Setting performance targets (criteria for success)