Impact measurement is a big deal to me. It’s the root of the essential trust between a nonprofit and its constituents. As a general rule of thumb, if you’re looking for a nonprofit to support and it isn’t immediately clear how that nonprofit is evaluating or sharing its impact, run away from it. I’m serious. Why? Because impact is, quite literally, every nonprofit’s primary concern. If they weren’t trying to achieve a certain type of impact, why would they exist?
Unfortunately, measuring impact is also one of the most difficult things nonprofits have to do. Think about a for-profit and how it measures its success: dollars, right? Sure, they may consider other factors, but the fundamental concern is revenue, and differentiating between a successful for-profit and an unsuccessful for-profit is relatively straightforward
The success of a nonprofit, by contrast, is measured in degree of impact. The problem is, while dollar amounts are logical and immutable, impact is amorphous, slippery, convoluted, and transient. Say your nonprofit’s goal is to increase literacy by giving books to low-income children in a particular neighborhood. You dutifully measure, and in five years’ time, the children who were given books are higher achievers than the children of five years ago! Awesome! Except…now you have the fun task of figuring out what else might have happened in the neighborhood, besides your book program, that could have increased literacy.
So you do some research and discover that some new educational initiatives were pushed, the local Boys & Girls Club started a popular reading program, and the neighborhood library received an attractive new overhaul. Your books-to-kids program probably did still influence the overall bump in literacy; it’s just that it’s nearly impossible to tell exactly how much. In a case like this, your impact is a guy who’s dating ten people and he refuses to reveal which one is the most important to him (sorry…as you’ll recall, sometimes I watch bad television).
The point is, measuring impact–especially as nonprofits grow city-wide or systemic–is an art form. A maddening, elusive, existential art form with no right answers and a lot of good guesses.
In other words, I love it.
Tomorrow I’m going to show you the first survey I designed to begin the process of measuring The Great Exchange’s impact! Don’t miss it–it’s going to be hot. It’s going shocking. It’s going to be the most controversial season of The Bachel–um, I mean of my blog–yet!