by Katie Delahaye Paine
So, you do communications for a nonprofit organization, and you want to know which of your efforts are working. Have your events and promotions achieved the results you hoped for? Is social media worth the effort? Just what is the best way to express your results? This article will show you how to use the process of measurement to express, understand, and improve your results.
Actually this article will show you how to start thinking about using measurement. Odds are your particular situation will be quite different from the examples below. You are going to have to adapt these techniques to your own situation. For more help, read the other articles in this blog and refer to its list of references. (Also, it wouldn’t hurt to pick up a copy of Measure What Matters, my new book on public relations and social media measurement. And of course get familiar with Beth Kanter’s Beth’s Blog.)
Remember that measurement is a process that uses research and data to help make improvements, and is very different than just looking at your results. Counting just adds things up and gets a total. Measurement takes those totals, analyzes what they mean, and uses that meaning to improve your practices. Measurement is an iterative process: You make changes based on your research, then gather new data, then make more changes, then gather more data, and on and on. Measurement of your processes and results—where you spend your time and money and what you get out of it—provides the data necessary to make sound decisions. It helps you set priorities, allocate resources, and make choices.
Nonprofit measurement involves five basic steps:
Step #1. Understand the mission.
Look in the mirror first: What is it you were hired to do? What problems were you hired to solve? If you or your department went away, would it have an impact on the mission? If so, how? Make sure that, whatever measurement you undertake, you are doing it to accomplish your job.
Now, understand which stakeholders make your organization successful. Yes, I know, there are many of them, from volunteers to donors to sponsors to your fellow employees. If you are going to try to compare your results with different stakeholders, then realistically, you’re probably only going to have the resources to look at three of those groups. To decide which are most important, play the following game: Get together everyone who will be involved in using, reading, presenting, or basing decisions on the data that you plan to gather. Have them list all their stakeholder groups. Now give everyone $1 million in old Monopoly money (or you can use sticky dots). Tell them it’s their budget and make them spend it all communicating to the various stakeholders. Where do they spend the money? The three groups that receive the most monetary votes are where you’ll concentrate your research.
Here's an example: I had a meeting with a healthcare nonprofit I was working with. Everyone who came into the room claimed they were focused on media measurement. I asked them to list their stakeholders, passed out the Monopoly money, and told them to spend their budgets. Of a total of $5 million potential dollars, they spent $1,165,000 on employees, $1,185,000 on donors, and $750,000 on corporate partners/sponsors. And it turned out they only wanted to spend $165,000 on media. The exercise made them understand that media was a only a means to an end, not the ultimate goal. They learned that they needed to focus on measuring the stakeholder groups that mattered the most.
Articulate the reasons why those stakeholders make the organization successful. Get everyone in the room to articulate how a good relationship with each particular group helps achieve the mission. Make sure you ask “So what?” at least three times until you get to the real reasons.
For example: Friend-raiser events are good. So what? Because more friends means more volunteers. So what? Because a bigger pool of volunteers means we don't have to hire the labor. So what? We save money.
Step #2. Define specific metrics.
Now you must determine just what data you are going to gather. Generally, your metrics will depend on your goals, and your goals will depend on your mission.
For example: Let’s suppose you are the Greenville Land Trust, your mission is to conserve land, and your goal is to raise money to buy the land. One money-raising strategy would be to grow your dues-paying membership, and a tactic could be to have a really fun event that attracts new people to the organization. Then a short term metric would be Number of New Members, and a long term metric would be Percent Increase in Donations.
(What you probably really want to know is if acquiring new members is a more effective money-raising strategy than are the alternative strategies of, say, direct mail, social media, grant writing, or just putting pressure on a few big donors. In which case you will want to develop metrics for all your strategies.)
To provide useful information, each metric and goal must have three components:
- Something that is calculable, like money, a percent, or a ratio;
- Something to compare it to, like last week, last month, or the competition; and
- A date by when this will occur.
So, for example, if you want to increase your trained supply of volunteers, then you might have as your metric: “By third quarter 2012, achieve a 5% increase in the number of trained volunteers, at the same or lower cost per volunteer as at present.”
Step #3. Assess your research tool and data situation.
Our experience with nonprofits is that they always have more measurement tools and data available than they think. Check all your organization’s departments—especially development and marketing—to understand what data systems they have in place. You’ll probably be surprised at much of the data you need is already being collected.
Step #4. Get buy-in from the top.
Using your data to make changes is your goal here, and for that to happen you will need to get everyone on board. Your efforts will be worthless if no one takes your results seriously. So before you actually do the research you’ve got to make sure that people at the highest level, including the board, are in agreement with your definition(s) of success and measurement priorities. Tell them the research you plan to do and why you plan to do it. Explain what data and results you are likely to get and how this information will be valuable for making decisions. If you get any pushback or negativity, then you’ve got to deal with it now, or risk having your results ignored.
Step #5. Collect data, analyze results, and draw conclusions.
Now you can actually go out and collect your data. You might be doing a survey, or getting membership figures from Development, or looking at web traffic stats. Maybe you are correlating media coverage to donations, or tracking social media activity against new memberships, or comparing the annual Auction with the biannual Gala.
When you analyze your results, what is most important is that you understand the context: Why are they the way they are? What do they mean for improvement? We’ve seen more measurement systems fail for want of context than any other single reason. If for years you’ve been hearing: “This bar on the chart is bigger than that bar,” or, “There was a big spike in June,” without the context and the So What?, then your analysis is meaningless.
- Why is that bar bigger, and what are you going to do next time to make it even bigger?
- What caused that spike, and how can we do that on regular basis?
- How will you use the data to do better planning?
That’s what makes a measurement system useful and successful.
Congrats! Now do it all again.
As I said above, measurement is a continuing process of improvement. So use your conclusions to make changes to your programs or strategies. Next year or season or time period, collect more data and improve your programs again. Happy measurement.
Katie Delahaye Paine is CEO of KDPaine & Partners, a company that delivers custom research to measure brand image, public relationships, and engagement. Katie Paine is a dynamic and experienced speaker on public relations and social media measurement. Click here for the schedule of Katie’s upcoming speaking engagements.