Progress Against Nonprofit Performance Measurement
Over the past five years, community foundations have been leaders in the pursuit of performance data that can make grantmaking more accountable. Research conducted by Community Foundations of America (now GivingNet) and the Technology Steering Committee demonstrated that the motivation for this effort was not that such data was "nice to have", but that it was essential to their on-going pursuit of new donors and greater contributions.
I was part of that movement, leading the effort to build web-based software that could be used to capture grant impacts and make them available to donors. At the most active point, 12 community foundations had purchased the software, called ImpactMgr, and begun the work of negotiating outcomes with grantees and working with them to get this data entered in this system. Although the work was a burden (not as bad as the United Way Logic Model), most nonprofits welcomed the opportunity to position themselves in front of a community foundation's high-net worth donors.
Long story short, the work was too overwhelming for the foundations and the grantees, and it never got to the point where donors could be invited in. The software company tanked because not enough foundations wanted it and the business model didn't hold water. Not infrequently, I catch wind of other companies trying to do the same important work and have yet to hear from one that has what I consider a reasonable plan for sustainability.
But in large part from that body of work, came an effort to capture a taxonomy of outcomes that nonprofits can use to inform their own pursuit of performance measurement. I was on the advisory committee for this effort conducted by the Center for What Works and the Urban Institute.
The fruits of that labor can now be found in a web-based browser that lists common outcomes in 14 program areas as well a Success Equation Generator that enables nonprofits to customize those outcomes for their own performance measurement plan.
On one level, it's pretty elementary. On another level, it provides building blocks for an inevitable future in which nonprofit can compete for funds based not simply on who they know (or don't) but what they do. Kudos to What Works and Urban.