How the Arts Council of Hillsborough County is Leading the Way Through Measurement

Strategy and Measurement Framework are Aligned for Success

When Martine Collier joined the Florida-based Arts Council of Hillsborough County as its executive director in 2017, she immediately went to work on the organization’s three-year strategic plan for 2017–2020. Through this process, she discovered that the organization had not historically weighted the grants that applicants received, based on applicants’ scores on the organization’s funding rubric. In other words, there were no repercussions for scoring poorly, and no incentives by way of an increase in funding if grantees improved their scores.

Prior to the Arts Council Hillsborough County, Martine had served as the president and CEO of Culture Works, an eight-county regional arts agency based in Dayton, Ohio. It was in this role that she had first worked with Sheri Chaney Jones, president of Columbus, Ohio-based Measurement Resources Companyand SureImpact. Martine had retained Measurement Resources to develop a funding formula for the organization’s newly launched outcomes-based grant process, so Martine hired Measurement Resources again to do this work for the Arts Council of Hillsborough County.

Then in 2018, a few years after Sheri had published her book, Impact & Excellence: Data-Driven Strategies for Aligning Mission, Culture and Performance in Nonprofit and Government Organizations, Sheri and Martine collaborated once more to present a workshop in Tampa to introduce some of the key concepts stemming from Sheri’s research and discoveries outlined in her book. Martine invited the organization’s grantees, board members and staff to attend.

“Sheri’s workshop got everyone fired up about data,” said Martine Collier, executive director, Arts Council of Hillsborough County. “It was the catalyst that got our grantees and board members thinking about how significantly more funding might be secured simply by conducting more measurement.”

When it came time to refresh the organization’s strategic plan in the fall of 2019, Martine worked with a local consultant on the plan. But for the metrics component, she called on Measurement Resources again to conduct this work.

“One of our strategic goals in this new plan is to become a high-performing, measurement-driven organization,” said Martine. “I felt we needed more than just lip service when it came to measurement.”

The board approved the strategic plan in May 2020, followed by the Measurement Framework in June 2020. Board members who had attended Sheri’s Tampa workshop were especially receptive to the importance of the Measurement Framework that Measurement Resources had developed.

“The Measurement Framework is built into the strategic plan, so the two are aligned,” said Martine. “This is truly the best of both worlds—strategy and measurement working together.”

Today, funders require data, and while Martine believes that nonprofits as a whole still have ample opportunity to improve in the area of measurement, arts councils and arts organizations in particular—because they are more intrinsic—frequently struggle to identify what and how to measure their outcomes. Quantitative metrics can be hard for arts organizations to determine, whereas some of the more traditional social services organizations can more easily track things such as recidivism rates, for example. 

As the Arts Council begins to roll out the implementation of its new strategic plan and Measurement Framework, Martine has already identified how she will seamlessly integrate the Measurement Framework throughout the organization’s programs. She also plans on promoting the Measurement Framework to grantees, so that they can become more competitive by adopting similar approaches for data collection and reporting.

“Arts councils should model best practices to their constituents in many areas, like communications, finances and measurement,” said Martine. “We have a phenomenal opportunity to engage arts organizations and artists in this strategic process. When our grantees experience higher scores on our rubric and receive more funding because they have measurement in place, it will drive home the importance of not only having the narrative, but also being able to back up that narrative using data.”

In addition to COVID-19 and the introduction of the organization’s new strategic plan, Martine will also be leading the Arts Council through another significant transition in the months to come. Since the organization’s inception 53 years ago, it has operated under the State of Florida as an independent Special District. As of October 1, 2020, the organization is scheduled to become part of Hillsborough County Government, which will eliminate the need to conduct a separate audit, separate accounting, and other administrative costs, that had previously cost the organization more than $150,000 annually. The Arts Council will be able to divert these funds to expand its programming, which is anticipated to result in more and better outcomes.

Like many other organizations and government agencies, the COVID-19 pandemic has elevated Hillsborough County’s urgency around the need to conduct more and better measurement on behalf of its residents. The Arts Council, with the help of Measurement Resources, has been proactive in this regard.  

“Our new strategic plan and Measurement Framework has put us in a position of strength,” said Martine. “We will show our elected officials precisely how the Arts Council uses public funding to generate real and lasting value, and through our Measurement Framework, this will be much easier to demonstrate. Sheri is truly the Johnny Appleseed of measurement, planting the seeds needed to grow stronger, better organizations.”