Harnessing Data to Measure Nonprofit Program Outcomes
The most effective nonprofit organizations know that data is critical to their mission for several reasons. Leveraging data to measure nonprofit program outcomes not only lets you fine-tune program efficacy, but also helps funders understand your impact. While there is no silver bullet that will point you to the most useful data, thinking through the considerations below will help position your programs for the best possible outcomes, and greatest impact.
1. Defining Outcomes
The first step on your journey is to determine the outcomes you want to measure. By clearly defining what you intend to measure, you’re ensuring your organization will ask the right questions when you move on to collecting data. Many nonprofits use their activities as a guide for what they want to measure. For example, how many people you serve, key demographic information for participants, and which programs those people attended. While there are both qualitative and quantitative aspects to measuring outcomes, keep in mind that most funders will want to see quantitative measures in your reporting so it’s important to define these early in the process.
2. Collecting Data
Now that you’ve defined the outcomes you want to measure, it’s time to determine the data you need to collect. Key to this part of the process is selecting data points that matter – quality is more important than quantity. Utilizing a case and outcomes management software solution can go a long way in streamlining data collection, and the most robust solutions will give you the ability to collect data from participants who are remote, customize forms to be specific to your organization, and allow form logic based on the information put into the form fields.
3. Data Integrity
Ensuring that your data is accurate and usable is fundamental to unleashing its power. Having a central repository that enables you to leverage consistent and complete data will make everything from intake to reporting more efficient, while helping you collect and store data in consistent formats. Training staff, and volunteers, is an important part of data integrity so be sure you’re allotting time and resources to this essential part of the process.
4. Telling Your Impact Story
Now that you have the data you can begin to answer questions like:
- Can we demonstrate our impact to funders?
- Are our programs making a real difference in the lives of the people we serve?
- Should we be focusing more on certain programs?
Your organization’s impact, and reason for being, depends on the answers to these questions. And the better data you have, the better you can articulate the impact you’re having on people’s lives, and your community.
Learn more about how Social Solutions can help your organization on its path to measuring, and managing to, outcomes.