Nonprofit leaders realize the importance of having a robust performance and outcome measurement system to demonstrate and communicate their unique impact and value. Yet, they struggle with determining the best measures and how to incorporate these into their daily work. Based on an informal survey of nonprofit leaders1, fifty percent of nonprofit leaders believed that measuring outcomes was one of the biggest challenges keeping their organizations from optimal success. A majority (62%) were interested in increasing their skills in determining outcome measures and effective performance measures.

Developing these powerful systems doesn’t have to be difficult. With a little mindset training and reframing, most organizations can easily incorporate a powerful outcome system in their current operations that fits within their current budget and executed with their own resources.  The first steps involve moving away from the technical and jargon term of outcomes and embarking on a journey with language that everyone in the organization understands. Outcomes are a measure of the extent that an organization is achieving its whys. Here are three simple steps to start determining the best outcome measures for your organization.

1. Understand your whys: Good outcome measures reflect why the organization exists. What specific change is expected to occur in its target population’s (participant, community, audience, etc.) attitudes, behavior, status and functioning that occurs as a result of organizational activities. They answer questions of how your organization changes lives, situations, or circumstances.

Action Item: Before committing to measuring anything, do a little soul searching and record all the things you say occur or you hope occur as the result of involvement or participation in your programs and services.

2. Focus on what you can control:  Too many organizations get caught up in trying to solve all the world’s problems when discussing their organization’s outcomes. Ideally, your organization is part of the solution, but social problems are complex. It is important to focus on the specific outcomes your organization can control. The best place to start is your short-term outcomes. These are the results that occur immediately after an intervention. They describe the direct result of program activities, which may include an increase in knowledge or skills and a shift in attitudes or behavior.

Action Item:  Review your list of whys and identify the ones that occur as a direct result of your participation and begin the process of deciding how to best measure them.

3. Select multiple measures: No one measure can tell your organization’s story. Good outcome measures not only communicate the impact your organization is having, but they will inspire others to pay attention and want to be involved in the social change or community impact that is occurring as a result of your organization. The best measures are those that are interesting to your funders, your stakeholders, your staff, and your participants and are likely to inspire others to action.

Action Item: From your list of short-term outcomes identify who is interested in that particular measure. Before committing to measuring anything, make sure that your measures are relevant to a variety of stakeholders and truly reflect your agency’s story.

Are you interested in developing a powerful performance and outcome measurement program that clearly demonstrates your organization’s effectiveness? Measurement Resources is here to help! Check out our Quick Start Performance Measurement Program or Contact us today for your free 20-minute session to talk about determining outcome measures.

Want more information on how to increase funding, morale, positive press, and organizational impact? Join the Achieving Excellence Community and receive our free eBook, Ten Tips to Open Doors to More Grants (and Other Funding): Overcoming Common Mistakes of Outcomes Measurement.

1 Measurement Resources Achieving Excellence Annual Readers’ Survey (April 2013)


Sheri Chaney Jones, President
Measurement Resources Company
June 2013