Measuring Impact

Measuring the results of a nonprofit’s campaign can be really important to measuring and maximizing your impact, as Ted wrote a bit about yesterday (“Getting to Stories With Metrics”).  It can also be a tricky business.  Aside from needing to overcome what is often pervasive resistance to the idea, and allocating the resources to do a good job, you also have to figure out what to assess and how to do it.

The easy way to pretend to measure the impact of a training program, for example, would be to report on the number of people who participate (yea, I’m picking on Ted a little for using this as an example in his post yesterday).  Although it might be useful for understanding the scope and reach of your program, alone it doesn’t tell you anything about how good the trainings are or how much impact the trainees themselves will subsequently have on your issues.

One national nonprofit we know goes to the trouble of assessing people before they begin the training and again three months later.  The surveys are subtle and sophisticated – they don’t rely on simple self-reporting but probe in more oblique ways – and the result is a numeric rating for each individual indicating their level of activity and leadership.  Their program evaluation, then, is based on the extent to which their trainees move up the scale as a result of the program.  Perfect?  Nope.  Simple?  Not really, since it takes some real effort to conduct each assessment, and tracking folks down three months after the training can be time-consuming.  Worthwhile?  It sure seems to be, because it allows them to track the real impact of their program and to better finesse both the program itself and their marketing.

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