5 New Year’s Resolutions About Nonprofit Measurement (Chronicle of Philanthropy)

By Perry Yeatman

I was recently talking with my colleague Jason Saul about how 2014 was a big year for the social sector. We discussed how there was a higher level of discourse around corporations making a business case for “doing good,” renewed excitement about improving government with bipartisan legislation for social impact bonds hitting Washington , and overwhelming interest in supporting a nonprofit cause as the ice-bucket challenge went viral.

As we enter 2015, we’re more excited than ever for what the New Year has in store for the social sector. And this is an opportune time for us all to look ahead and think about how to make the most of the year. Here are five resolutions we recommend to help us all have even greater impact in 2015:

Focus on Outcomes

In years of experience working with nonprofits, we’ve seen how easy it is to get overwhelmed by all the work that has to be done. Organizations work toward goals like tutoring a certain number of students, training job seekers, feeding homeless pets, or even buying vans.  And while these activities may “do good,” they are far more effective when directed toward higher-level impact. This year, before getting bogged down in all the activities you are trying to execute, I recommend you focus first on defining the valuable outcomes your activities can produce—changing awareness, behavior, condition or status—then prioritizing your work based on what needs to be done to accomplish those outcomes.

Measure Impact

Following from the point above, your organization should evaluate impact by measuring your success in producing key outcomes. Some nonprofits think first about strategies or programs and then try to measure what they achieve. Rather than just tracking the activities you’re already doing, measuring outcomes determines the value of those efforts, helps define your program strategy, and better demonstrates the impact you’re making to potential supporters.

Appeal to Impact Investors

This is the year to sell your impact to a new generation of donors—those who are truly invested in making social change.  Target your pitches to these donors using meaningful data like your “cost per outcome” to demonstrate the return they can expect from donating to your organization.  Rather than asking for donations, showing your value to those committed to the impact you want to achieve will create dynamic new opportunities with a variety of supporters.

Benchmark performance

As you think about the year ahead, now is the time to consider your peer organizations—those seeking to achieve the same things you are. Relative to these “competitors,” how do your programs perform? Are they better or worse than your peers’ programs at achieving the desired impact? Focusing on standardized outcomes and the kind of apples-to-apples efficacy comparisons you can achieve with an approach like Mission Measurement’s Impact Genome Project, you can clearly demonstrate the unique value your organization delivers.

Join the ‘Big Data’ Movement

Although measurement is critical, it is also difficult. To overcome the time, cost, and capacity challenges presented by traditional program evaluation, 2015 is the year to embrace big data.  In a word, we need to create “predictive” data just as other sectors have done.  My team has been working to accomplish this goal through a massive undertaking we call the Impact Genome Project. We’re about a year in and we welcome nonprofits to join us in this work to codify and quantify the existing research and evidence base so that we can apply predictive analytics to ultimately simplify and improve the usefulness of measurement for all nonprofit organizations.

Together, by doing these five things, we’re confident 2015 will be a transformational year for us all!