Nonprofit Success - How to Measure It
By Merle Benny

Unlike a corporation counting dollars, nonprofits have other, more varied, ways of determining success. Your goal is not to return profits but rather to return results. You have an obligation to your funders and to the community at large to fulfill your mission. Financial health, and in most cases, continual growth are essential to your organization's health. The way you measure growth is as unique as your organization.

To realize your vision you may need to increase your budget, serve more clients, improve your services, hire more staff or acquire property. You may need more volunteers or more public awareness. Any of these are valid indicators of success if they take you closer to your vision. That's the real measure of success; how close you are to realizing your vision.

To reach your vision takes clearly defined goals, lots of hard work and at least a bit of synchronicity - that magic of things coming together to produce results beyond your hopes or imagination. But you don't have to leave it to fate, your first obligation is to define and share your vision and the second is to run a sound business dedicated to reaching towards your vision.

Creating appropriate measurement tools is not as hard as it sounds. First, know your vision. If it is not crystal clear, work it out. A vision is a broad statement - the ideal situation resulting from your work. Your vision may "no family is homeless" or "there is a cure for pancreatic cancer" or "all children in the community have access to art."

Next, state your mission. You may already have a mission statement. Be sure it is a practical guide that states how you are working to achieve your vision now. If your vision is no homelessness in your county, your mission may be to provide housing and support services for the homeless. If your vision is to art for all children your mission may be to provide free art lessons and field trips to art museums.

Once your mission has been defined you are ready to create goals.
Each goal should be directly related to your mission.

Finally(!) you are ready for measurements. Each of your goals should include one or more measurements that will make it possible for you to know just how well you are doing.

Let's take an example, in a simplified form, all the way through:

1. You created an organization because of your concern for children in foster care.

2. Your vision is: All children in foster care have a safe, consistent place to go regardless of their placement in a private or group home.

3. Your mission is: To provide a location that all children in foster care in our county visit regularly.

4. Your goals are:

To locate a building to use for the visits.
To recruit and train volunteers.
To schedule all the children for regular weekly sessions.
To secure funds to support the center.
5. Each of these goals can be broken down and measured. For example, To recruit and train volunteers your goals might be:

a. To recruit 60 new volunteers over the next six months. Measurement: 10 volunteers a month

b. To develop a training program. Measurement: Write a rough draft by April 10.

c. To hold monthly training sessions for volunteers. Measurement: Schedule first session for 30 volunteers in May.

In summary, you are ready to measure results when you have dreamed your vision, stated your mission and set goals. Be sure that each team has a goalkeeper - somebody should have the responsibility of keeping track; knowing where you stand will keep you moving ahead. Keep stretching. If you find you are easily reaching your goals, set the bar a little higher. And don't forget to celebrate your successes!

Merle Benny is the founder and president of Nonprofit Champion, a free resource center created to help nonprofit leaders become nonprofit champions. If you've ever said there's not enough money, time or volunteers, follow Merle and she'll show you how to get more of what you need to meet your mission.