Why Measure Impact?
I wouldn’t go as far as John Mackey, CEO of Whole Foods Market, Inc. who said in his essay “Conscious Capitalism”: "In my opinion, most modern American non-profit organizations operate with a mentality that creates inefficiencies...; most nonprofits are ineffective in fulfilling their mission" (check out his blog for the essay and a heap of commentary.)
In fact, I challenged Mr. Mackey to put some examples out there. It’s a pretty flat statement, isn’t it? And it made me mad. No reply from him yet but I will point out that he is devoted to responding to those who comment….
I have lots of examples of nonprofits who are making a difference. People and organizations I know are doing good work, squeezing every cent they can out of the donated dollar and certainly fulfilling their mission. I know this because I’ve worked directly with lots of organizations both personally and professionally. And I also know there are tools out there that tell us about efficiency – dollars spent on admin versus programs – for example.
But Mackey’s statement led me back to a path I departed from a while ago: measuring the impact of investment in nonprofit programs. Some people call this Accountability – I’ve never liked that term – it has more of a “tell me what you did with it” rather than a “show me what you created with it” connotation and I think that’s an important distinction. But, whatever you call it, guys like John Mackey feel comfortable casting doubt on the effectiveness of “most nonprofits” and there is no way, other than our personal experiences, to really fight back.
The folks at the Center for What Works and the Urban Institute have been working for a few years now to help nonprofits get started with measuring their effectiveness, their impact, the value they create, etc. They’ve recently published a Taxonomy of Outcomes and associated metrics that can help fill the void in an organization that hasn’t quite found their own just yet, and actually, which can help provide a structure for, one day, comparing nonprofit performance. If you’re working with an organization that hasn’t started “measuring”, pass the taxonomy along. Maybe it can help get the ball rolling.
I’ve never believed that numbers tell the whole story. The numbers often can’t distinguish greatness from mediocrity. But they often can start a conversation that wouldn’t otherwise happen. And I think that’s the real value in "measuring" things anyway.