Getting to Stories with Metrics

Jeff Brooks is the man behind a great blog called Future Fundraising Now. In a recent post he discussed what performance metrics donors are looking for from the nonprofits they support.

Brooks’ thesis is that donors give primarily for emotional reasons and while metrics aren’t irrelevant donors aren’t seeking to connect with a cause or organization on data-driven, analytical levels. Stories about the people involved in and benefiting from the organization’s work (work funded by the donor) fuel the emotion that engages people to give, volunteer, fan organizations on Facebook and spread the word.

Yet Brooks doesn’t dismiss metrics one bit. With respect to stories he writes of good data gathering:

“You’ll get better stories. A system of gathering metrics will put you in contact of what donors really want: stories. And that leads to better fundraising.”

Metrics can tell a story about stories. Donors want stories.

But how do we learn about our storytelling from metrics? There is a ton of data out there. Too much. What can help guide us, inspire us to write better stories for our donors and others in our audience?

We can look at feedback metrics to gauge interest in our work. Some of these measurements also come with commentary that can give insight into the quality of the work. These metrics might be, for example:

  • pageviews of a blog post or other web page,
  • comments on a blog post, and
  • retweets, facebook shares and other social media discussion

If you don’t think that your content is generating the sort of reader numbers or discussion that you expect it could be a sign that you aren’t telling good stories and engaging people in your work through the content. Growing pageviews and comments in a certain type of content or subject area could indicate that those stories are interesting your constituents and may be good topics for further stories and fundraising efforts.

What about programmatic metrics? We can look at data measuring the type, quality or quantity of programs the organization provides to flesh out stories about that work. Here it is going to depend on your work but tying programmatic metrics to the people (and places) you have helped will strengthen stories.

  • How many people have been trained at job training sessions? How many participants are now in the workforce? What is a story of one or more participants about their experience and way life has improved?
  • How many meals were put on a table by your food bank? How many people have access to more local food with better nutritional value through your inner city slow food project? What are some of the stories from participants about how this has made them more independent or better able to feed their family?
  • How many people are receiving calls and emails encouraging them to attend a county hearing on natural gas drilling in the area? How many showed up? How many spoke? How many are now engaged in ongoing efforts to improve energy production in the area?

We work in a time when it is literally possible (almost) to drown in data that measures our performance. Your supporters don’t want to see it all. They will love you because you do great work that changes lives. Focus (for your donors) on telling good stories informed by solid metrics. If you want data for your accountant that may be something altogether different.

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