Great government and nonprofit organizations let go of the excuse that performance and outcome measurement systems are “too expensive.” Instead they ask, “How can we achieve our desired impact and excellence?” Successful leaders find the required time and resources needed to establish performance measures that fit within their budget and lead the organization to positive results.
Results from the Measurement Culture Survey Project revealed that there is no correlation between high measurement culture and organizational size and budget. Twenty-two (22%) percent of organizations with budgets less than two million dollars were found to have high measurement cultures, and 28% of organizations with budgets greater than five million dollars were consistently using data in management activities. Organizational size was not a determining factor in whether an organization embraced a data-driven, high-measurement culture.
Several small, single-employee or all-volunteer organizations achieve great success measuring their outcomes and using data to achieve organizational outcomes. On the other end of the spectrum, some organizations with a staff of more than 100 and with budgets in the millions struggle with the effective implementation of program evaluation and outcome measures. An organization’s capacity for data-driven decision making has very little to do with its identified mission, geographical location, staff size, budget size or growth trajectory. It is correlated with the leaders’ commitment to achieving excellence.
Christy Mills, the Executive Director and only paid staff member of Pickaway HELPS, is a great example how a small organization is making a big commitment to creating a data-driven culture. Christy believes that “data is the answer to future success.” Within a limited budget, she continually seeks the best ways to validate Pickaway HELPS’s work and demonstrate organizational impact with data.
Pickaway HELPS is a small nonprofit dedicated to providing college readiness services in a rural county school district. To start out, Mills selected three measures found in college preparation literature that were shown to link with increased readiness: 1) increase in the percentage of students who took the ACT; 2) increase in the number of students filing a FAFSA form; and 3) increase in the number of college applications.
Mills then proceeded to cultivate relationships with the school guidance counselors to obtain the reports that contained this data. She instituted an annual review of this data, presenting it to her Board and to partnering schools. The organization now receives ongoing funding and partnership from area schools because she can demonstrate the success of the Pickaway HELPS program offering.
Data has been valuable in her efforts to increase student access to college. One example: Mills found that there was a decrease in the number of students taking the ACT because some students were scared and did not know what to expect from the test. As a result of this information, she made changes to her programming and was able to obtain funding to administer the practice ACT and increase this important indicator of success.
Measurement is an essential tool that helps government and nonprofit organizations achieve greatness. The path to organizational effectiveness begins with the commitment of leaders to move from simply gathering data to achieving excellence with the data they have collected. Once this commitment is made, organizations find the resources needed to successfully engage in the activities. As seen by Christy’s example, taking the first step has the greatest impact.
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Sheri Chaney Jones, President
Measurement Resources Company