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5 Steps to Measure your Nonprofit’s Mission and Improve Program Effectiveness

By May 25, 2017

One of the biggest challenges facing nonprofits is finding the time to step back from executing on their mission and take the steps needed to evaluate the effectiveness of their programs in order to learn what’s working and what can improve.

Even if you find the time, in order to make impactful changes, you still need to:

  • Track the right data to measure programs and their impact
  • Have a process and a technology solution in place for measurement
  • Justify impact and convince others that changes will work

If you are part of an organization who isn’t there yet, this might seem like quite the undertaking, especially for smaller nonprofits. This was the topic of conversation in our most recent webinar, Measuring Your Mission: Why and How. We were lucky to have amazing speakers who shared their learnings around one of our customers, The Boston Higher Education Resource Center (HERC).

  • Ellen Bass, Director, Capacity Institute
  • Carolina De Jesus, Program Director, Boston Higher Education Resource Center
  • Stefanie Archer, Sr. Salesforce Consultant, 501 Partners

HERC exists to equip first-generation college students gain access to higher education break the cycle of poverty and become agents of change in the community. With the right consulting partner, they are now able to better understand and predict the needs of their program participants. HERC has impact data and dashboards for their board, funders and every employee right at their fingertips. But most importantly, Carolina and her team now have the insight and agility to evolve and scale HERC’s programs.

Here are 5 steps from the presentation to measure your mission and improve your program effectiveness.

1. Further define your mission and constituents.

Every nonprofit has a mission, however according to Ellen the first step is to further define how it applies to each of your audiences. Who are you hoping to serve with your programs and what is the desired impact you aim to have on each constituent? Also, don’t forget to look at other audiences like your board or funders and think about what they care about in terms of impact.

2. Describe the commitments and outcomes.

Once you’ve defined your target population, the next step is to understand what commitment you are making to them. Create your own “maslow’s” hierarchy of need for each constituent. What are your basic services, like training sessions, events, or counseling? What is the longer term affects that can result from your programs such as college acceptance and completion in the case of HERC?

3. Codify your program and quantify indicators and metrics.

In the context of performance management, outcomes mean changes in people’s lives. So, how do you expect your target population’s lives will change in the short-term and long-term from receiving your services? What are the metrics around, as Ellen puts them, “doses” of your program you can measure that give you indicators of program success, versus measurable long term outcomes.

4. Gather data on the cycle of participation in your organization.

Once you have reached this step the hardest part is over! Now it is time to start thinking about what data will support the answers to all of the questions in steps 1-3. There is a good chance you are already collecting a lot of this information already in disparate locations. Equally important is finding out what you are not collecting – there is no expectation that this will be perfect on day one.

5. Address operational challenges.

Finally, it is totally normal for there to be some roadblocks as you start to measure your mission and programs. Don’t let that discourage you! Identify what the challenges are. Is there no process in place to collect data? Are staff resources already stretched thin? Through identifying the challenges you can start to come up with solutions.

Remember, the important thing is to get started on your journey. The good news is that with the right approach and technology small steps forward can provide enormous insight and returns.

Watch the full webinar to learn more tips and find out how the Boston Higher Education Resource Center followed these steps to implement a comprehensive mission management system with the Nonprofit Success Pack.

Interested in learning more? We invite you to join our next program management webinar, “The #AwesomeAdmin’s Guide to What’s New in Reporting for NPSP” on Thursday, June 15th at 2:00pm ET / 11:00am PT. Sign up today!

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