On Monday, Elyse Klova and I hosted our first-ever twitter chat as @FCAtlanta and @GrantSpace respectively. We had an engaging crowd of nonprofits, foundations, and consultants from across the globe answer our questions, and pose some thought-provoking questions of their own. You can read the conversation highlights below.
Q1: Is impact measurement a priority for your organization? Why or why not?
A1: Answers spanned from the undecided to yes, very important!
- If impact measurement isn't a priority, you're either not doing good work...or you can't prove that you are.
- We measure impact for one reason - to better serve our clients.
- Impact meas. is crucial b/c it is proof of the "social" in the socent enterprise, the results justify the project [while others noted that it is] hard to move from anecdote->data.
- Impact [measurement] is important because it not only shows organizational capacity but helps establish best practices in a given field.
An interesting discussion sparked around the discrepancy between the need to require nonprofits to measure their impact by funders in order to get nonprofits to follow-through, and the fact that such requirements are not a good way to motivate “front line staff to shift thinking on outcomes.” Reader, where do you stand on this?
Q2: What stage of measuring impact is your organization in? Just starting, still thinking about it, longtime practitioners?
A2: Again, a range of responses came up. Some organizations had never conducted an independent evaluation or collected impact data, while others had five or more years of experience. One person asserted that some nonprofits and funders confuse impact evaluation with grant reporting.
- We've always measured our impact...but we can always do it better. Stop refining measurements & you stop refining programs too.
- Took us about 5 years to get to success.
Q3: What challenges and limitations are you facing either in starting out or in your current efforts?
A3: The most prevalent answer was lack of capacity, resources, or support from funders. Following that, people chimed in with: deciding which tools and metrics to use, changing staff’s outlook, entrenching the right systems into the nonprofit’s culture, and maintaining commitment.
Our participants also had some words of advice for organizations that lack capacity:
- [Focus on] performance management first, then more formal eval.
- Just do it. Find ways. Grants. Outsource. Reorganize.
- [Apply for] Grants! Capacity building grants, org assessment grants, or a sponsor (corp/major donor).
- Efficient &effective doesn’t have to be sophisticated [or costly].
Q4: What systems does your organization have in place to collect data and measure impact (if any)?
A4: A variety of software and data collection and data management systems were mentioned.
- We built a system so our statewide staff/leadership could enter data AND monitor outcomes, on their PCs or on-the-go.
- Client survey method. dedicated eval team. Survey detail depends on client needs and willingness to provide data.
- We use Efforts to Outcomes (ETO) internally, but also have to use 13 external systems as well - mandated by funders [and] we migrate raw data between systems frequently [to integrate with the external systems and to cut down on duplicate entries].
- We use the GPRA per the federal agency most aligned with the program (justice, education, health, etc.).
- Orgs [we work with] use #sroi [principles] to decide what to measure, how to measure and how to value.
Q5: If your organization is currently measuring impact, how did you use findings to change and improve?
A5: Some organizations used findings to retire programs that didn’t work or scale up ones that did. Findings also spurred innovation and new ways of problem-solving. Other organizations used data to inform their boards of changes they needed to make, to set new funding priorities, to revise their strategic plans, and to adjust their programs' design or delivery.
Practitioners and consultants with evaluation experience also offered the following advice:
- Start small. Measure 2-3 things well, then expand. Do NOT try to measure everything.
- Define… useful metrics.
- Eval is most effective with a pilot or demonstration program - allows for fine tuning before scaling up.
- Part of funder education is to teach how much time is wasted with multiple systems [and] try to have this conversation during off times in grant cycle. Not when reports due.
The following tools and reports were recommended:
The following organization's web sites were cited as good examples of outcomes reporting:
The chat left us with plenty of food for thought, and we hope to do it again soon. A huge thanks to everyone who participated!
So, now we want to hear from the rest of you… where are you with measuring your organization’s social impact? Share your thoughts with us in the comments section or start a new thread.