Despite how wonderful your organization is, many funders expect you to prove that your programs work. So, this begs the question of how to measure success, a challenge with people knowing that they made a difference, but not being able to show it with factual data. As a CPA, my take on this is for people to quantify with numbers the ‘before” and “after” scenario as much as possible.
Before and After
The key here is to quantify the “before” as much as possible and make it a baseline. For example, how many people attended an event before or now? How many calls were made to a center before or now? Set a baseline so that it can be compared and analyzed later on.
The other side is to show results over time and how the program is relevant, “the after.” For example, you could show that a certain drug rehab program started with 15 people and has grown over time with 25 people the following year and today has 100 clients. However, be sure that you’re measuring significant items. For example, maybe a better way to measure success in rehab would be how many people finish the program, not just number of clients at a certain point in time. A nonprofit may have more clients, but if fewer are finishing the program, this may indicate a problem.
To determine proper measurements, start with your program objectives. If your objective is to provide literacy services to adults, the number of students may provide a good measure. Or, maybe the number of students that pass a literacy test could make more sense.
A nonprofit that provides temporary housing for the homeless could consider success when the person moves on to permanent housing or when he/she gets treatment for addiction and gets a job. It all depends on the program final objective. The yardstick to gauge impact could be the number of people in the temporary housing, or the number of people leaving such housing for something more permanent, or maybe how many new rooms have been added to accommodate this population. It all depends on the nature of the program.
Education and awareness
To implement a measurement system, staff and managers must be aware of the situation, so that proper data can be identified and tabulated. Since this may be new to many, be sure to explain the reasons for this “extra work “so that the staff not only understands its purpose but also give good ideas about how to measure impact meaningfully.
Set up a structure for people to work so that information is not forgotten or lost. You could use checklists, ask certain questions or fill out forms– all to document “before and after” on a systematic basis, not just at random. The idea is to institutionalize ways to evaluate programs. Knowing that there is a system in place is sure to please any new donor.
Keep it in writing
Keep all docs in writing with logs, notes, pictures and any pertinent information handy to show funders that your organization is indeed making a difference. Document major processes. For instance, if you provide a child care hotline, every call should be written up on a log with information about who took the call, time, etc. Keep close contact with providers that can give you backup and numbers about how many placements were made because of the hotline, for instance.
Keep the documentation in paper or digital format, safe and organized, so that it can be found and compiled quickly. This information should be available to both program and fundraising/development. You don’t want people looking around for hours or days, trying to find a specific data that can help the organization grow and keep its funding.
Measuring program success can be a daunting task, but it’s usually doable, once the nonprofit defines what needs to be evaluated. Besides numbers, you can also use pictures to document baseline – “before and after”. This can be very effective when dealing with construction projects, for instance. Make sure to double check on the ways your programs are being evaluated. Sometimes, a program or focus changes, but instead of changing, the evaluation methods stay the same. Be nimble here.
Check out the book “Nonprofit Finance: A Practical Guide” –– Nominated for the 2016 McAdam Book Award