Home NonprofitNonprofit Management Common Nonprofit Mistakes (And Simple Solutions) Part 9: My Nonprofit Makes An Impact, I Just Need To Prove It

Common Nonprofit Mistakes (And Simple Solutions) Part 9: My Nonprofit Makes An Impact, I Just Need To Prove It

by Tim Goetz

Miss the beginning of the series? Go to Common Nonprofit Mistakes (And Simple Solutions) Part 1: I Could Do It All, But I Shouldn’t.

This video features a handful of customers we get the privilege of working with at Aplos, and they are the reason we love what we do. These nonprofits get to share their passions and missions, and they also share tangible examples of how they are accomplishing those missions. They are making a real impact in our world, and we love working to help them be successful.

Nonprofits aim to feed, educate, innovate, heal, and serve. However, too many nonprofits make the mistake of only putting general goals on paper. If they pushed further, they could say, “We will accomplish THIS GOAL by doing THESE ACTIONS, and we will know we are successful because we will track THESE NUMBERS.” That is a powerful statement that can inspire an organization and their supporters. A tangible and measured impact can be one of your best outreach and retention tools.

Let’s check in with Molly and find out how she discovered the importance of measuring her impact.

How to Measure the Impact of a Nonprofit

Molly here. If you recall, a couple weeks back I had a difficult time building relationships with my donors. Once I started to get the hang of it, I was calling a few of my major donors on a weekly basis.

I would check in, catch up on their personal endeavors, and let them know how the facility was doing. One day, a big donor and CEO of a local bank, Dennis Thompson, asked what his donation actually bought us.

I thought about my budget and gave him a general answer: food, medications, some office supplies, etc. But he pushed back and asked, “I’m curious though. How many animals are we helping? Do you have a headcount of how many animals were at your facility last month and how many of those were adopted?”

Being honest with him, I let him know that I’d have to do some digging and get back to him.

I’m not even close to being a statistician, so I grabbed my box of records and a volunteer who was a math major to help me do some calculations. While my records on a per-dog basis were hit or miss, we were able to break down the average cost of caring for a dog, including food, medical, and housing expenses. We were able to figure out that Dennis’ monthly donation of $250 enabled us to feed 25 of our dogs each month. That’s huge!

When I called him back to let him know the results, he loved the results and wanted to increase his donation to feed even more dogs each month. Encouraged by the interaction, I decided to start tracking the care we give every dog by hanging charts on their kennels.

Metrics for Nonprofits

In my thank you letters, I shared with donors that their $10 monthly donation fed one of our rescues for an entire month. I also shared details about the number of dogs we had placed in permanent homes.

One of my donors wrote for the local paper and mentioned our organization in an article about how a small donation can go a long way. I started seeing an increase in our donor base over time just by showing the real impact supporters could make for the cause.

Tracking how we accomplished our mission was a great tool for us that opened up some new doors for the organization. Knowing whether to walk through those doors was a whole other matter. But I’ll fill you in on that next time.

Nonprofit Best Practices

Making Your Mission Measurable

Being a numbers guy, I love tracking how our company is achieving its mission to create software that simplifies nonprofit management. With every new, satisfied customer, we feel like we are really helping to make the world a better place.

Your nonprofit has the same need. When you track your mission using measurable outcomes and identify the tangible impact, it will:

  • Keep you focused on how to direct your nonprofit to successfully achieve your mission
  • Help you avoid wasting energy on items that do not achieve your core mission
  • Prepare you to respond to grant inquiries that require measurable outcomes
  • Motivate your supporters by showing the impact they are making
  • Boost donor confidence with measurable results
  • Attract new donors with the ability to show a tangible impact
Measuring Outcomes in a Nonprofit

Unfortunately, measuring your outcomes and identifying tangible impact can be harder than it sounds, which is why a lot of nonprofits skip this important task. So let’s break down how you can measure your mission.

Measuring the Success of a Nonprofit's Mission

First, ask yourself, What will we do to accomplish our mission?

Identify what success is for your organization. For example, Molly accomplishes her mission by operating a facility to house, feed, and care for dogs, while coordinating adoptions for permanent placements.

Identifying the specific avenues you use to accomplish your mission may feel like you are limiting your options, but it also means you are focusing your efforts on the things that result in the most impact.

Next, ask yourself, How do we prove what we have accomplished?

For Aplos, one of our primary goals is for our software to be simple. We measure if we are succeeding at being simple by reviewing metrics gathered from our customers:

  • Web traffic trends tell us if people are easily finding the information they need
  • Software activity tells us if people can easily learn the software and set up their accounts
  • Customer support requests and surveys tell us when an area isn’t user-friendly

For your organization, think through what you have the ability and access to easily track as a part of a daily routine. Here are some common items that are often tracked:

  • Number of individuals served
  • Number of items provided (meals, clothes, books, etc.)
  • Number of volunteer hours donated
  • Amount of awareness generated

How Do You Track Them?

Now that you have identified what to track to measure your effectiveness, you need an efficient and organized way to do it in your daily routine. Since every nonprofit is different, you will need to create a system that works best for you—preferably one that has a low time commitment and is easy to maintain.

Molly could use something similar to a patient chart for each dog to track the amount of care each dog received. Once she entered each chart into an Excel spreadsheet, she could pull some powerful reports about the type of care her shelter provided to each dog.I have worked as an advisor for a nonprofit called Off The Front, which does an exceptional job proving their impact. They work to reduce childhood obesity by providing bikes and nutrition education to kids. In addition to tracking the number of kids they work with and bikes they provide, they also equip each bike with a microchip to log the number of trips to and from school, and the number of miles each kid rides. This data demonstrates that the kids they are reaching are increasing their level of physical activity.

Nonprofit Measurable Outcomes Example

You may decide to start simple with basic metrics like tracking volunteer service hours. Goals like “awareness” are a bit more time-consuming to track. If you are tracking the media coverage your organization receives on radio, TV, print and online, you can create a media coverage spreadsheet (download an example) to calculate the number of people you reached and the dollar value of the coverage. You can find these numbers by requesting a rate sheet and media kit from the station’s advertising department.

Sharing Your Results

Once you are tracking metrics regularly, you have more ammunition to reach out to your donors to give them updates, examples, and practical application about how their support is helping make a difference. For example, Molly’s animal shelter could confidently say, “Your $5 donation can feed a dog for a week” or “Thanks for helping us save 300 dogs last month.”

This is an example of an end-of-the-year letter sent to donors by Off The Front. Every Neighborhood Partnership, another nonprofit I founded, shares its outcomes visually in its annual report. Both are great examples of leveraging your measurable impact to inspire confidence and illustrate how you are succeeding in accomplishing your mission.

How do you track your impact? Is there a program or software that your nonprofit uses to help track results? Leave a note in the comments section below for our readers. We would love to get your feedback!

Up Next: Part 10

In the final installment of this series, Part 10, I will share how important it is to keep your nonprofit’s mission in focus and avoid mission drift.

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