May 17, 2011

Measuring to Improve Impact

Measurement that helps nonprofit organizations create greater outcomes for their beneficiaries, and/or lower their cost per outcome achieved so they can do more with less, are the kinds of measurement we should be encouraging.

By: Matthew Forti

Welcome to Bridgespan’s inaugural Performance Measurement blog entry! If you’re part of any social sector organization or initiative, whether as a funder, board member, CEO, manager, or front-line staff, chances are you need to think about measuring performance. This blog is for you!

Why “Measuring to IMprove Impact? Well, judging by the volume of written content, the types of tools available, the nature of the discussions had by funders and grantees, and so on, the social sector seems to be obsessed with measurement to prove impact. Don’t get me wrong—this purpose of measurement is crucial—in particular for organizations with interventions that are capable of being statistically "proven," and with the ambition and wherewithal to dramatically scale. But what’s left for the rest?

Quite a lot, it turns out, because one of the most valuable purposes of measurement isn’t to prove impact, it’s to improve it. Measurement that helps organizations create greater outcomes for their beneficiaries, and/or lower their cost per outcome—so they can do more with less—are the kinds of measurement we should be encouraging from organizations.

But we don’t. There is very little attention paid to this purpose, and organizations are understandably frustrated. They see few frameworks that seem relevant to them, few peers who can point the path to victory, and most disappointingly, few funders willing to pay to build the required internal measurement capacity.

The good news is that measurement to learn and improve impact needn’t be overwhelming. In fact, there are organizations doing it today and realizing great benefits. They are building the right culture before choosing the right metrics. They are creating systems that ensure all contributors benefit. They are using measurement to make better decisions. I hope you will read our white paper, "Measurement as Learning," to learn more.

I also hope you’ll stay tuned. Next month I’ll be back with an entry about an exciting development in the measurement world that promises to bridge the worlds of monitoring and evaluation to help organizations improve impact. In the meantime, please tell us about your experiences with measurement. What are you trying? What are you learning? What advice do you have for others?

Matt Forti is Bridgespan’s Performance Measurement Practice Area Manager. He can be reached at [email protected]

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