Evaluation and Measurement of Outcomes

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How do you know if your nonprofit is making a difference?

Impact is the difference your nonprofit makes: There's the work you do, and the results that flow from it. More and more nonprofits, grantmakers, and government partners, are focusing on outcomes, rather than "outputs."

The National Council of Nonprofits and its state association network encourage nonprofits to embrace a culture that supports evaluating the difference your nonprofit is making. This requires first identifying "what does success look like?" Then making a plan that will get you there, and collecting information along the way to evaluate whether your nonprofit's progress is actually getting you closer to success. Finally, it's important also to communicate what you are discovering, and use those lessons to continuously improve performance. All of this is referred to variously as, "outcomes measurement," or "performance management," or simply, "evaluation."

If you are just becomining familiar with this topic we recommend a powerful and easy-to-read book, Leap of Reason, that explains how nonprofits and grantmakers (and governments) have a responsibility to the individuals and communities we all serve to be as effective as possible. The authors go on to stress that in an environment of increasingly limited resources, those nonprofits that can demonstrate that they are truly making an impact will be the ones most likely to attract resources and talent, and therefore be most sustainable.

As Leap of Reason points out – measuring outcomes is not just about attracting resources to your nonprofit; it's about the mission. Your nonprofit will only know that it is indeed helping individuals, solving problems in communities, and protecting the environment etc., if it is evaluating its performance. Identifying and communicating impact are also important activities for any charitable nonprofit since donors understandably want to know that their donations/grants are making a positive difference.

Evaluating Performance, Measuring Outcomes

Whether your nonprofit engages in formal “evaluation,” monitors progress towards specific goals, or uses feedback loops to learn what's working and what's not, each of these activities is a type of “performance measurement.” What makes the most sense for your nonprofit?

Here are some resources to help your organization along an intentional path that we hope will lead to the most effective delivery of your nonprofit's programs and services, and advancement of its mission.

Tools

Evaluation capacity resources

Resources

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