Outcome measurement madness


Today’s DonorDreams post is from a guest blogger, Rose Reinert. Rose is a young non-profit professional who happily serves in the trenches and grapples with our sector’s newest challenges as they relate to data, impact, and program outcomes. When it comes to data systems, she has experience with membership management databases, financial management software, donor databases, and program outcomes measurement systems.

Outcome measurement madness

By Rose Reinert

In a former life, I served as an Executive Director of a youth serving organization. As you can imagine, as in any non-profit, the heat was on illustrating short-term and long-term impact. These efforts, of course, were to show that we were fulfilling our mission of preparing young people to be contributing citizens. Unfortunately, more often than not, we focused on short-term impact in order to keep funders and donors engaged and happy so they would renew their investment.

lotsofdata1One of those funders, who I would work at keeping happy with their investment of money and time, was my board of directors. I used to love packing my board book with tons of statistics “showing” our hard work. I would use pretty graphs and pie charts, comparisons from the previous year, week, minute.

I was so proud of those thick board packets!

Now, the tables have turned and I serve on a board of directors for another area non-profit. In a recent board meeting, as I was overwhelmed with pages of statistics I sat thinking, “So what! What does this all mean?

Oh the irony!

When I was leading my organization, we used to measure anything that moved. We were swimming in pre- and post-tests. By the time we closed out one session, we were at it again with pre-testing.

There were days, amongst the insanity, where I would have moments of clarity. I realized how many opportunities had been lost. We were caught up in the “Outcome Measurement madness“. We lost opportunities to truly, without defense, use the data to assess how we were doing and if we were moving the needle.

What would happen if we got off the hamster wheel and took a step back? What questions could we ask about our outcome measurement strategy?

One great tool that I found to help re-frame and create a strategy is a publication titled Intermediary Development Series: Measuring Outcomes at DareMightyThings.com.

lotsofdata2If you are just starting or if you could use a fresh look, these questions can help:

  • Where should we focus?
  • What do we want to accomplish?
  • Who is on the team, and how do we involve others in organization?
  • What resources will you need?
  • Do we need additional help?
  • What is our timeline?

Taking a step back to reframe, or create a strategy to ensure that we are measuring what matters is critical. There is no escape from outcome measurement, and there shouldn’t be. Data is critical; it guides decisions, informs investors, and points out areas for improvement. However, you can measure a lot and still have no clue.

How have you found clarity in the outcome measurement madness? How does your organization involve all levels in developing the strategy and executing it? How do you share your data with stakeholders?  Please share your experiences in the comment box below.
rose draft sig

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About DonorDreams

Erik got his start working in the non-profit field immediately upon graduation with his masters degree in 1994. His non-profit management and fundraising experience numbers nearly 20 years. His teachable point of view around resource development is influenced by the work of Penelope Burk and those professionals subscribing to a "donor centered" paradigm. Donors have dreams and it is our responsibility to be dream-makers because donors are not ATMs.

Posted on June 20, 2013, in leadership, nonprofit and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.

  1. Excellent comments and thoughts Rose, thank you. As a fundraising professional (I am with a not-for-profit youth agency also) I apprecaite the value and importance of measuring and being able to “show” or “prove” the value of our services to our investors.

    However, I agree that unfortunatly there is a propenisty to spend so much time “measuring” and “proving” that we loose sight of some important issues- like what is REALLY going on? What are the emotional outcomes and effects? What are the intagibles (non-measurables) that are a part of our process or service?

    One of my favorite questions is, “So WHAT?” I ask this a lot and it often frustrates the more analytical in the world. For example, “So what do those numbers mean?” Or, “So what. . . how are you going to follow up with all the names of people that attended your event?” Or, “So what are going to do to build a better realtionship with your investors?”

    The list could go on. . . and on. . . and on!

    Suffice to say, thank you for your thought provoking comments.

    • Your comment is awaiting moderation.

      Kelley,

      Thank you for your comment! Yes, indeed it can get overwhelming with the demands for measuring, coupled with the desire for those intangibles. As you and many other fundraising professionals know, half the battle is identifying which information, hard data or anecdotal, excites and further engages a donor. Thank you for the work you do and here’s to conquering the hamster wheel!

      Rose

  2. Kelley,

    Thank you for your comment! Yes, indeed it can get overwhelming with the demands for measuring, coupled with the desire for those intangibles. As you and many other fundraising professionals know, half the battle is identifying which information, hard data or anecdotal, excites and further engages a donor. Thank you for the work you do and here’s to conquering the hamster wheel!

    Rose

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