Are computers more important than changing lives and changing circumstances in our communities? Is the mission of IBM more important than the missions of the social sector? If actions speak louder than words, the answers to these rhetorical questions are yes, based on the actions of social sector leaders and their supporters. The current mindset and “rules” that surround the social sector encourage mediocrity and limited results. Current donations to the majority of charities are unlikely to make a difference, but I’ve witnessed first hand how data can change the world in radical ways.

What brought us to our current reality is not what will bring us to our desired future. When we keep doing the same things, we can expect the same results. High-achieving, high-performance leaders understand these concepts and therefore, they are consistently innovating and implementing new strategies to reach the next level of success. Data-driven strategies are used to test the market, understand results, and innovate products and services. Business survival depends on these activities. Without this level of commitment to research and refinement, organizations become stagnant and will eventually die.

Unfortunately, finding high-performance practices in the government and nonprofit sectors are few and far between. Less than 25% of social sector leaders report using data and research in their daily decision making (Impact & Excellence, 2014). This reality is irresponsible and it is time to demand a different model; one focused on results and innovation. With this new focus, data can and will change the world.

Investment in research of an organization’s target market, activities, services and results provides leaders the data needed to create innovative products that best meet their clients’ needs, improves operations by eliminating waste, and improves marketing through more strategic and successful client acquisitions. The more a company invests in these types of activities, the more successful they become. For example, IBM has spent approximately $6 billion on research. IBM’s investors and decision makers understand the correlation between the investment in research and increased growth and sustainability. The investment improves their products; increases their efficiency; improves customer services. All of these things ultimately lead to increased sales and profit for their shareholders.

Social sector leaders report not investing in evaluation and research because they don’t have enough money to engage in these practices. This scarcity thinking cannot and should not be permitted. Leaders committed to real and impactful social change should stand up for high-performance practices. Without understanding important metrics and their impact, organizations are unlikely to become more efficient and successful. In the for profit world, companies that do not use research to adapt, remain stagnant or eventually die. This is exactly what is starting to happen in many of our social sector organizations.

Before we place all the blame on the organization’s leaders for not implementing these best practices, it’s important to note that some leaders’ efforts to be more innovative are often thwarted by those who say they believe in them the most – their funders and donors! The root of the problem is not lack of resources; the problem is the rules or expectations around how the organization’s money is used. Donors and funders demand the money goes to programs. Therefore, leaders have to make decisions that perpetuate the lackluster status quo instead of making investments in research that will contribute to even greater success.

Most government and nonprofit organizations have not quantified how they are changing lives and changing circumstances. They cannot prove to their funders the impact they are making with their donations because no one has given them the funding to figure it out. They are unable to test different intervention models and outreach approaches because funders are not providing money for these activities. Everyone expects money to go directly to the programs and they provide little funding to be invested in research and evaluation.

Imagine what our world would look like if we invested $6 billion dollars into the best approach to help individuals find and maintain jobs, end homelessness, build community cohesion, or address mental illness! What if nonprofit leaders had the funding to be continually innovative with their programs and services? What if they were rewarded for measuring outcomes for their clients? What if they were rewarded for building systems and cultures that allow them to use data analytics to predict clients’ needs for the services that deliver the best outcomes? Not only would these organizations be more efficient with their dollars, they would fully realize their mission and produce lasting social change on a scale unlike we have ever seen.

This ideal vision, one of a thriving and innovative social sector, is completely attainable. Success does not necessarily require additional money; it requires funders, donors, and decision makers to operate with a results-driven mindset.

  • Donors need to judge charities based on a different criteria. Charities should be expected to clearly define success. They should report the percentage of their clients that achieve success, the cost per successful client, and how they are striving to decrease the cost of a successful client. The beauty of this measure is that as the success rate increases, the cost per success decreases. Also, as the efficiency of program delivery increases, the cost per success also decreases.
  • Grants need to be made for social sector leaders to obtain the tools and resources needed to measure their efficiency, effectiveness and impact.
  • Leaders need to be encouraged to use research results to continuously innovate and improve their outcomes.
  • Board members and leaders need to make evaluation and outcomes measurement a priority and invest in these activities at a greater level.

These listed activities are critical for the improvement of services. Examples of data-driven improvement and impact allow leaders to tell a compelling story and to seek more funds.   Leaders who step up to the call to take a hard look at their programs understand their outcomes. They strive for continual improvement, and should be the ones who are rewarded with additional funding and celebrated for their success.

You say you want to see just how much data can change the world? It is time to take a stand for greater impact and excellence. Stop throwing money into activities and programs just because they sound good or they run a great social media campaign. It is time to be more discerning in our criteria for success. A different set of questions need to be asked. Leaders should be asked to demonstrate their outcomes and their plan for continuous improvement and refinement. Elected officials should be held accountable for innovation and rewarded for developing efficient and effective programs. Without these shifts, we cannot expect to see anything different than what we are currently experiencing.

The good news is that 24% of organizations have figured out how to use data and research to help them achieve their missions. Their success is highlighted in the new book Impact & Excellence: Data-driven Strategies to Align Mission, Culture, and Performance. This book outlines the case for sweeping changes in how the social sector is expected to operate, along with the proven and practical path forward without requiring a lot of additional research. Implementing the steps contained in this book is guaranteed to change the way government agencies and nonprofits operate and will put them on a path of continuous improvement and greater impact.

If you are looking for specific data-driven strategies aligned with your mission that will motivate others to support you, Measurement Resources is here to help! We can help you align your mission, your measures, and your culture. Our favorite part is to celebrate our clients’ success on their increased impact on the world! We’d love to help you make data-driven decisions with confidence. Contact us today for your FREE 20-minute strategy session to learn how data can change the world.

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