08/22/2011 | 21 mins

Define Effectiveness: Creating a common language

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In order to achieve greater success as a network, a nonprofit network must define the dimensions across which it will measure success. And so, based on a network’s strategy, the center and affiliates should work together to identify the dimensions of effectiveness for affiliates.


What components of your work matter most to achieving the results you seek?

In order to achieve greater success as a network, your network must define the dimensions across which it will measure success. And so, based on your network’s strategy, the center and affiliates should work together to identify the dimensions of effectiveness for affiliates.  It's useful to consider both programmatic dimensions and any organizational dimensions that contribute directly to programmatic impact. Homing in on the few dimensions that really matter is the challenging part of this step, but it is crucial to emerge with a clear and manageable definition of success.  

We recommend that you prioritize no more than six to 12 dimensions (including both programmatic and organizational—i.e. three to six programmatic and three to six organizational). (Note: Organizations often track important data for specific analysis or reporting; our suggestion to identify between six and 12 dimensions of success is not intended to replace that kind of data collection. Rather, its intent is to give the network a common language, and identify the few measures that are most telling in terms of assessing an affiliate’s ability to generate results.)

Creating the common language (defining dimensions of success)

How do you figure out what really generates results in your network? Of all the things each affiliate does, and all the resources and skills brought to bear, how can you home in on what’s really most important?

Keep in mind, this effort is designed to improve performance across the board. To maximize benefit for the network, then, all dimensions should be:

  • Fairly easy to measure
    • If a dimension is not high priority for the network as a whole, and is difficult to measure,  don’t use it here
    • How feasible is data collection for both the center and affiliates? If it’s too difficult to track progress on a given dimension, it’s not worth including in an initial effort to improve effectiveness
  • Relevant (i.e. able to be linked directly to network strategy)

To develop your own group of key dimensions, your network may want to ask questions including:

  • What will help the network see how all affiliates are performing against their common strategic goals?
  • What information will allow the network to compare results in a constructive way?
  • What will help the network understand why some affiliates may be achieving more than others?
  • What will help the network determine what supports different affiliates should receive?

Keep orienting against the organization’s big-picture goals, with effectiveness and improvement in mind. The idea is not to create a checklist, but rather to incite collaboration and shared learning.  For example, a question monitoring an organizational dimension wouldn’t ask: "Do you have a board?" but rather: "How strong and engaged is your board?"

Below is a chart sharing examples of the kinds of dimensions the networks might use. 

To download a PowerPoint copy of "Sample dimensions that networks have used," please click here.

Case Study: Land Trust Alliance

The Land Trust Alliance, a national associated network of 1,700 land conservancies, provides a good example of how coming to a shared understanding about the dimensions of effectiveness can be of value to affiliates and network leadership alike. In 2003, CEO Rand Wentworth focused the work of the organization on increasing the pace, quality and permanence of land conservation in America. As he put it, “Our new lens shifted everything from activities to outcomes. It meant a cultural shift for everyone involved.” Read more>>

Next In: Preparing to Grow Your Network's Impact

1. Before You Begin

2. Start with Strategy: Use the network’s unified strategy to drive decision making

3. Define Effectiveness: Creating a common language

4. Create Paths: Create paths for improvement for affiliates

5. Diagnose Performance: Diagnose where the network is today and uncover pockets of strength

6. Facilitate Learning: Use diagnostic results to facilitate learning and improvement

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