I’ll never forget the way people used to look at me when I would tell them that we had a successful year at our Children’s Advocacy Center because there was a 25-percent increase in the child sexual abuse cases we saw. All wide-eyed and somewhat exasperated, their response would sound something like, “More children being abused is considered success?” Well, not exactly. We were successful because we reached more children. The rate of abuse in our state wasn’t what we were measuring; we were measuring the impact of our programs in a way that seems to outsiders as counterintuitive. Strange, even.
Leading a nonprofit organization can come with its own unique set of challenges. One of those challenges is finding a way to measure our success. For us, it’s not about the “bottom line”. Our success can’t be measured necessarily by our end of the year balance sheet.
The good news is there are ways to measure success of your nonprofit. One of the ways described by nonprofit sector experts John Sawhill and David Williamson comes down to looking at three kinds of performance metrics. What I like about these metrics is that Sawhill and Williamson are very intentional about connecting them to the mission, vision, goals, strategies and tactic/activities of your organization. All of which are critical component of non-profits.
The first two metrics are relatively simple and I believe can be adopted easily.
There are Capacity Measures. Many of you do this already. This is where you are comparing year to year your fundraising activities, your public funding sources, your key stakeholder relationship (yes, measure this!) and your staff structure, volunteer base, board of directors and outputs.
Next is Activity Measures. Take a close look at what exactly the staff or volunteers are doing to raise the impact toward your mission. Having this information in a chart or other ongoing reports will undoubtedly give you needed data to address inadequacies or make minor course corrections that could result in major outcomes.
The final and most challenging metric is Impact Measures. This is where you measure progress toward your mission. Now, some of you may say, “Of course!” and “We are very mission-focused”. But are you, really? Children’s Advocacy Centers are one of those types of organizations that in general have lofty goals of protecting children, strengthening families and even eliminating child abuse. All of which are admirable, and I for one feel very dedicated to; but how do you quantify that? Here are three options.
First, you can narrowly define your mission so that progress can be measured directly. This is not to say you should oversimplify your mission, but perhaps make small adjustments to it in order to give you opportunities to show progress. CAC mission statements that highlight efforts to provide a safe environment for kids or a strong community response to child abuse or a reductions of traumatization in child abuse victims are on the right track.
Second, you can invest in research to determine whether or not you are achieving your mission. This often takes time and can be costly, however, can also provide rich information that you can use to make adjustments as necessary.
Finally, you can develop “microgoals” that, if achieved, would imply success on a grander scale. Clear and simple microgoals or indicators could include response to trauma-focused treatment, child abuse reporting rates, disclosure rate, or evidence-based prevention programs.
So, get out there and consider the many ways we can measure success. Why not try out some new techniques? You may be surprised what you uncover. And, the next time you do an outreach and education program in your community that is followed by an increase in your new child abuse referrals for that month, go easy on those outsiders who don’t understand that being a success. And hey, maybe you can measure that!