There is a transformational shift taking place in the giving sector from traditional philanthropy to results-focused giving. This shift is happening for a number of reasons, but ultimately, better measurement enables greater impact; donors are able to see the results of their giving, thereby increasing the likelihood of continued donations, while foundations, nonprofits, corporations and even the individual change agents that support them, are able to use tracking and reporting information to adjust programs in order to yield the greatest benefits for those on the receiving end.
As a result, the need to measure outcomes and impact continues to accelerate across the giving sector.
However, as a relatively new movement in the philanthropy space, organizations are at varying places and stages of maturity when it comes to measuring outcomes. Some are unsure about how to even get started, while others are looking for sophisticated technological solutions to aid in measurement and reporting. Knowing your organization’s current capacity when it comes to measurement is half the battle, but in order to deepen your impact, organizations should always be striving to advance measurement capabilities.
MicroEdge+Blackbaud has found that there are five stages of outcomes maturity that organizations work through as they develop their outcomes capacity in order to truly become a results-focused organization. In response the company worked with The Rensselaerville Institute to develop a tool to assess an organization’s place on the maturity model. Making a few small changes in your organization’s measurement activities will yield a big impact in advancing your organization’s maturity level from stage to stage over time.
1. Minimal. In the minimal stage, as the name implies, an organization has little to no focus on results measurement. Don’t feel overwhelmed if you’re in this stage—everyone started here at one point, and this stage presents a lot of opportunity to grow.
2. Basic. Measuring results tends to be more ad hoc, open-ended or reactionary. In moving from minimal to basic, giving organizations should work on creating consistent outcomes or performance indicators—make sure that apples are apples and oranges are oranges. The indicators should reflect anticipated achievements in each of program area.
Additionally, get clearer about results-focused questions in grants applications and ask for anticipated results and outcomes during the application process—ensure that it’s clear as to how progress will be tracked along the way. Organizations should also implement result-based reporting throughout the grant term (not just at the end of the grant)—and when following through on outcomes tracking, use that data to assess the effectiveness of program activities.
3. Developing. Organizations at this stage are likely measuring results across all the major focus areas of a program, but now may want deepen their impact. To move from Basic to Developing, organizations should rethink their approach to funding and perhaps consider a shift to focus on achieving systemic reform to ensure their measurement approach considers both long-term intended impact (those that will directly affect participants and communities) and the shorter-term goals (such as convening stakeholders to agree upon best practices and methodologies).
Organizations should also put an emphasis on outcomes in capacity-building investments, which will help get better results for participants in the long run. Construct programs in a way that measures increase in operational efficiency, reduced costs to deliver programs, decreased time to achieve results, or any other relevant capacity improvement measure
4. Strategic. By this stage, organizations are leveraging results data to inform key decisions about funding priorities. Here, evaluate risk and return by thinking like an investor—look for opportunities with low risk (such as high confidence that partners can achieve their intended impact) and high potential returns (confidence that an organization will achieve as much as possible with support), so that resources are being directed toward activities that will help meet goals.
5. Integrated. In the integrated stage, measuring results is woven into organizational culture, and it cuts across all focus areas, guides current and future decision-making, and informs program strategy. Now it’s simply about strengthening something that is already strong. Outcomes and results data should be used to make nimble program adjustments and to turn data into learnings at every point throughout a program, using information to change course as necessary to meet goals.
No matter where an organization falls along the spectrum of measurement maturity, by emphasizing the importance of capturing and using results data and information at every point on the journey toward impact, organizations can begin to create stronger, more meaningful and impactful giving programs.
—Michelle DiSabato, impact market executive, MicroEdge+Blackbaud