If you are a social impact business or nonprofit organization, you may be experiencing increasing pressure to use both quantitative and qualitative data to create a compelling case for the conscientious consumer that chooses you as their go-to company or charity.
While many organizations do a fantastic job of communicating the value of their product or service, fewer are able to accurately demonstrate the quantifiable impact of their work in a trustworthy and engaging manner.
With the New Year quickly approaching, there is no better time to consider establishing new systems that will enable you to measure and evaluate your organization's impact in a new or fresh manner.
If you are new to the concept of Measurement and Evaluation, or have been avoiding it for whatever reason, let me take a moment to break it down. First, it is important to understand that Measurement and Evaluation, although often used interchangeably, actually refers to two separate terms which describe different functions pertaining to your company's performance.
According to www.urban.org:
"Performance measurement tells what a program did and how well it did it."
By definition, measurement is quantitative and typically tracks a program's inputs and outputs. For example, if you are a nonprofit whose mission is to care for the homeless, one of your key programs may be blanket distribution. The inputs, or resources required for this program to function, would be donated blankets, transportation, and volunteer hours. The outputs would be the number of blankets distributed along with the number of community members who were engaged in distribution.
In this scenario, a measurement system would tell us how many blankets were distributed to how many homeless individuals, along with how many volunteers participated in distribution for how many hours, plus how many regions of the community were impacted how many times. At its core, measurement is pretty simple because it's basically just counting. As it turns out, the ROI is pretty high; in return for putting some easy spreadsheets into action you'll gain:
Quantitative data to consistently communicate to your constituents
Evidence of your hard work and diligent use of resources
Quantifiable inputs which aid in determining program costs.
Enhanced marketing and fundraising capacity
Where organizations can go wrong is in maintaining proper tracking. In order to institute a strong measurement system, you must first have an understanding of which inputs and outputs you desire to measure. You then build a system that will allow you to diligently track these specific items. The most difficult part is maintaining consistency in your counting and recording in real time. To measure accurately, you need to be proactive. It can help to have easily accessible and shared documents and tools (even as simple as an online calendar or google sheets on your staff devices) with established protocols in place that dictate how often certain information is recorded and whom is responsible for completing this task.
If we use our blanket program as an example, we would design a simple tracking system to:
Determine how many blankets are needed in our community
Record how many blankets were donated
Track how many blankets were distributed
Calculate how many blankets remain
You could make a pretty easy chart and assign it to the program coordinator to fill out each month:
The chart could be in a shared google sheet and would require little to keep up with. You would probably also want to track staff and volunteer hours in a chart like this:
If you did this diligently, at the end of each month you would be able to share out that your org 'Blankets for All' had 38 volunteers spend a total of 80.5 hours distributing 580 blankets to homeless individuals living in 4 different community districts this month! You could even use some of the information mid-month to communicate your need for more volunteers to help distribute the remaining 259 blankets during your upcoming volunteer day on the 29th. The information is all right there at your fingertips!
Additional ways we could we use this information:
To craft engaging impact reports & newsletters
To apply for funding/grants
To track our gifts in kind (GIK) for volunteer hours and donated blankets
To demonstrating our need for additional blankets, funding, volunteers, etc…
But what would make this information even more valuable to our marketing and fundraising efforts?
You got it, qualitative data!
If you coupled your first quantitative post about how many blankets were distributed with qualitative data that explains how these blankets impacted the homeless population in your community along with how the intersection of volunteers with homeless friends lends dignity and promotes understanding, you would be approaching a GOLD LEVEL of engagement.
For reference, compare these two potential media posts:
Post 1: Quantitative only
Great news! Our organization, Blankets For All had 38 volunteers give a total of 80.5 hours distributing 580 blankets to the homeless in 4 different districts this month!
Post 2: Quantitative Plus
The number one request on a survey given to friends experiencing homelessness in our community is for clean blankets to keep them warm during the winter. With COVID limiting capacity of our shelters by 50%, many of our friends are spending cold nights out of doors. 38 of you volunteered 80+ hours to help us share love and warmth with 580 of our neighbors living on the streets this month. Thank you!
While both posts have their place, it is easy to see which one appeals to a potential customer's heart as well as their mind, leading to much higher rates of conversion.
Unfortunately, measurement is the point at which many organizations stop. They may be able to tell their supporters how many have been affected by their programs, but they neglect to share the important ways that recipients have been impacted by their work.
The problem with this is that while it may be impressive that your organization has collected and passed out 3,000 blankets to homeless individuals in 4 different neighborhoods using a collective 200 hundred volunteers working 500 hours, this actually tells us nothing about the effect this program has had on your community.
What if we were to later find out that Blankets for All's distribution is actually occurring in the middle of August to a homeless population living in Florida? What if reporter interviews a homeless Floridian in possession of one of the organization’s blankets and discovers that they have been the recipient of 5 blankets thus far and traded 4 of them for a greater felt need?
This is when the Evaluation component of our due diligence enters the room.
According to www.urban.org:
“Evaluation tells the program’s effect on the people, families, or communities it is serving, that is, whether a program is producing results or having [the desired and sought after] impact.”
Evaluation is by far the more intensive component of the measurement and evaluation process and is important because it allows us to:
Create a compelling case which demonstrates the actual NEED for our organization by first understanding our constituents' wants and needs
Determine the effectiveness of each program and initiative by evaluating real impact
Allocate our limited resources most effectively
Identify areas for improvement
Justify the addition of new programs
Communicate our progress and future needs to both customers and funders
Evaluation is critical if we want to be sure that our social impact company or nonprofit organization is progressing in its mission, generating the desired impact within our community, and stewarding resources in the most efficacious manner. If you'd like to know more about establishing a working Evaluation protocol within your organization, Neema speaks more about this in our next article, entitled: Creating a Compelling Case: Part 2.