“Example is the Best Precept” – Aesop

We are considering how to gather and use imperfect metrics when our non-profit services can be hard to measure.  Often our objectives are not easily quantifiable.  We strive to change attitudes, to educate the community, and build relationships.  These are noble and worthy efforts, but even those must be measured somehow. In the October edition of Non-Profit Quarterly Talley and Fram cite the following example:

Case #2

A preservation advocacy group in a major city was hopeful that they could mobilize the preservation community to take action on specific projects. Typically, the organization would “take a stand” when someone threatened to tear down or “modernize” a historical treasure. Rather than just be one more voice in the political melee, their strategic objective was to direct and energize the larger cluster of organizations with interests in preservation, everyone from local chapters of national preservation organizations down to neighborhood associations and even contractors. But how do you measure political influence? How do you measure whether the organization motivated or directed another organization?

The group settled on two or three imperfect metrics that nonetheless provided a major step forward. The first was to track how many of the board members had a spouse, friend, or business partner on the boards or staffs of other preservation organizations. Mere membership clearly does not guarantee influence (hence, it’s a poor metric), but having no connections to other organizations probably does guarantee the absence of influence. And merely collecting the data drew attention to how well board members were building bridges to other organizations. It also highlighted the organizations for which they had no connections, and motivated board members to explore new possibilities.

The second metric was only slightly better. The group decided to count the number of other organizations that were willing to “stand with” them on any particular project. Deciding whether another organization was “standing with” them rather than just “standing next” to them was obviously debatable. Another organization may simply have come to the same conclusion rather than deciding to join forces. But that debate was exactly the question that needed to be highlighted. Deciding whether another organization could be considered as a deliberate ally vs. an accidental one drew people in to the very issues they wished to understand.  http://nonprofitquarterly.org/management/20701-using-imperfect-metrics-well-tracking-progress-and-driving-change.html.

These metrics were agreed upon by the group as necessary and acceptable – one of the first conditions we cited in this blog series.  With abstract goals such as community support and organizational partnerships, the metrics they decided upon were far better than none at all.  Do you agree with their selection and methodology?  Have you chosen imperfect metrics to measure your organization’s goals and objectives?  Does this example provide any new ideas for metrics your organization might pursue?  Let us know, we’d love to hear from you.


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