I’ve been talking to a lot of nonprofits lately about performance measures. If you ever have received a grant from government or a foundation or funding from the United Way, you’re familiar with measuring your performance. You know you are rated on your financial management by Charity Navigator. Such organizations as the Urban Institute provides templates for measuring a variety of program areas: employment training, youth mentoring, and assisted living, for example. The United Way, when it funds programs, want these programs to lead to improved health, education, or income.
Despite this push, I find that nonprofits don’t share their successes very well even though most nonprofits have a clear mission to distinguish themselves. What I find most often is annual reports that tell us outputs, the number of kids who attended, the number of seniors served, but not measures that tell us how the number of kids who attended helped them meet their mission.
One step would be to provide information to compare with last year. Number of kids served tells us little if we don’t know how many kids were served last year. Another simple way is to relate it to the size of the program budget. That way we have a realistic idea of how many kids can be served. It better answers, how is my donation being used.
Another way is to tell how you are doing in comparison to other similar agencies, to benchmark yourself. This is easier for national organizations that can readily share information such the Red Cross, the Ys, Scouting, but organizations such as animal welfare organizations, food pantries, and museums would have enough similarities to do so as well.
Even these improvements don’t measure the outcome we want, domestic violence victims who successfully find a new home in which they are secure or kids who successfully graduate from high school or who are physically fit. We may know this information, we just haven’t recorded it.
Many nonprofits are small, but that can’t be the only reason we don’t see more performance measurements reported. Performance measures do also show where we need to improve. Is that the reason they are not reported? Why do you think nonprofits don’t publicize their successes more?