Outcomes: What Matters Gets Measured
There I said it. I used a term new to me in the nonprofit world. Add that to my new vernacular of “capacity building, collective impact, social enterprise, crowdfunding” and a whole bunch of other words and phrases that in my editor days I might have struck from stories as jargonistic “weasel words.”
A lot of the language of this new world seems to get in the way, in my humble opinion.
But outcomes, I get.
I wish all who wish to change their worlds got the importance of outcomes too.
Outcomes, simply, state what impact your dreams have made – and specifically what your supporters may have done to help. Funders know you are passionate about your cause. You care and they do, too. But to what end? To what outcome? They need to know, for their own benefit and your future well being.
They know you want to feed the hungry. They know you want to help kids learn. You want to develop sustainable sanitation projects in Nicaragua. Love it. But your friends, supporters and funders are looking for quantifiable measurements that show your impact. We like the thanks, we love the hugs. But we need data. Show us the numbers if you want funders to show you the money.
You see, supporters and funders need to show outcomes, too. These days, charitable foundations and government agencies are demanding hard evidence that the programs they support better people’s lives. Social service organizations that previously relied on instinct are gathering more information about participants, seeking outside analysis, and tracking their effectiveness to improve their performance — and prove their worth.
“The economic downturn has put fewer dollars in the hands of philanthropic interests and contributed to a more competitive funding landscape for nonprofit organizations,” Adrian Bordone, cofounder of Social Solutions, a performance management software firm, told the Boston Globe. “This has forced organizations who have in the past depended on anecdote and compassion to propel their fundraising success to more aggressively pursue a data-based value proposition.”
When your supporters write grant proposals for funds to be able to give you more support, foundations look to them to show what impact their work has on you, those you serve, the good you do.
When you get support, it’s important and polite to say thanks. The hand-written cards are touching. The hugs from the kids, warming.
But what your friends really need? Data. Metrics. Results. Outcomes.
What matters gets measured. Your supporters need to know how many volunteers or donors their gift or involvement generated, how many dollars were raised, how many page views your web site gained, how many grades your students advanced in reading levels. Be specific.
If you are not into sophisticated spread sheets, do your best to track what you can and share it.
Here are some examples of outcomes Charitable Words’ partners have shared, which will be helpful as as attempt to ask for support to do more. These are lifted from grant proposals Charitable Words is preparing. You can see the more specific the measurements, the more attractive the ask:
Good stories, told well
One of the greatest challenges facing the nonprofit and common cause sectors is communicating the importance of their work to fragmented audiences of potential supporters and donors that are likely to be inundated with pitches and passions. Charitable Words is a resource to help organizations craft their stories effectively and with impact.
The Charitable Words blog is part of the Cincinnati.com network, offering nonprofits it partners with and profiles a significant audience.
Outcome: Coverage by the blog and social media strategies boosted the Literacy Network’s awareness for its Handbags for Hope event and annual Hope Award, which went to a 65-yrear-old man who learned to read so he could read the bible to his grandchildren, a story reported on the blog as a “best practice in a nonprofit’s storytelling.”
Executive Director Kathy Ciarla reported metrics that showed its digital strategies reached more than 3,000 users the days surrounding the event. And when a tutor training session was mentioned in the Charitable Words blog, it “sold-out” with 20 new volunteers.
Learning and Lending a Hand
Charitable Words connects students interested in humanitarian work with nonprofits in Greater Cincinnati and around the globe. The Charitable Words Scholars provide reports from the field about best practices and success stories.
One of the criteria of the program: “The nonprofits we look for are those in which a few hours a week would make an impact. Those that would take the time to provide the intern proper attention and mentoring to make the experience meaningful and, hopefully, life changing.”
We ask the students and nonprofits to set goals and track specific metrics to support that goal.
Outcome: Charitable Words Scholar Tia Garcia was assigned to Melodic Connections, which provides music therapy for special needs students. Tia, multimedia editor of The University of Cincinnati’s News-Record web site, had an immediate impact when she redesigned the nonprofit’s digital presence.
“We have gotten two new volunteers in the past two days from the website form Tia set up,” reported Executive Director Betsey Zenk Nuseibeth. “This is an amazing project and I am so grateful.”
She promises to continue to report specifics on Tia’s work and reports from the field contributed even more (web metrics, volunteers, donors, impact on students) during her internship. If the trend of Tia’s impact continues, it will be of considerable value to not only the nonprofit but the funder who needs to show its funders the difference she made.
Connections are currency.
Beyond funding, Charitable Words works with nonprofits on relationship-building and finding logical partners and supporters to raise friends as well as funds.
Outcome: Charitable Words worked with The Literacy Network on its annual Handbags for Hope fundraiser.
We contacted a travel agent friend and arranged for a Bahamas cruise as a raffle prize. We called friends at Dress for Success, a local nonprofit that “promotes the economic independence of disadvantaged women by providing professional attire, a network of support, and career development.” Event attendees who brought more than 70 gently-used handbag to donate were given a raffle ticket and more tickets were sold at the event.
Less tangible, but life-changing outcomes
Indeed, data drives the measurement world. But this is not to say touching story should be forgotten (as master marketer Lori Jacobwith says, “No stories without numbers, no numbers without stories.”
“On my first day on the job, I was shown so much hospitality and felt very welcomed. The staff gave me a warm greeting and the students had a strong willingness for me to teach them. Soon I began to see the appreciation the students have for the staff and quickly felt accepted into the East End family.
One of the students I’ve been working with, Amanda, has improved three grade levels in one month. The East End has led me to reevaluate my plans after I graduate and motivates me to continue to teach others.”
You can see the reports you provide your supporters and donors don’t have to be all about metrics and spread sheets. Making a difference is not always about data.
When a donor supports you, saying thanks and giving hugs are important. Good stories are, too.
But measurable outcomes are an equally important return they are looking for on their investment in your dream.