Is your organization making a difference?

Just about everyone with an interest in nonprofits wishes for greater information about their effectiveness. Unfortunately, with millions of nonprofits around the world addressing everything from advanced cancer research to preschool enrichment programs, it’s been challenging developing metrics and processes that provide reliable measures of their successes.

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How are you measuring your organization's success? (Photo credit: Ms. Tea, Creative Commons/Flickr)

Of course, various groups have been pushing for ways to solve this problem: Foundations ask for progress reports; government contractors ask for tallies of service units; academic researchers design double-blind studies and look for control groups. Yet a challenge with these approaches is that they are designed to give outsiders – funders, government agencies, the general public – tools to evaluate a nonprofit’s work, or even compare performance among nonprofits. We are still left wondering: are these approaches making it easier for board members and staff to develop a thoughtful and ongoing way to assess the impact of the organization’s work? Do they understand their role in the organization’s challenges and successes?

A project developed by the BBB Wise Giving Alliance, GuideStar USA, and Independent Sector is looking to address these questions by helping nonprofits evaluate themselves, starting with their leaders. Charting Impact challenges board members and key staff members of nonprofits to ask themselves five questions, and to be candid when publishing the results. The questions are general enough to work no matter what the goal and to fit organizations of any size. Already groups as diverse as the Food Bank for the Heartland [PDF] in Omaha, Nebraska, and the American National Red Cross [PDF] have completed the process and have their Charting Impact Reports online for anyone to see.

The five questions are:

  1. What is your organization aiming to accomplish?
  2. What are your strategies for making this happen?
  3. What are your organization’s capabilities for doing this?
  4. How will your organization know if you are making progress?
  5. What have and haven’t you accomplished so far?

While there’s certainly value in answering these questions, the real innovation in Charting Impact comes in the setup and sharing: organizations answer the questions online and can share their initial responses with up to 10 stakeholders who give anonymous feedback. The result is a personalized report that crystalizes your work, goals, and impact and includes the input of your community.  Organizations that have adopted the Charting Impact approach say that some of that feedback has been really useful in sharpening the descriptions of their work and refining the measures they use to track their own progress.

Because Charting Impact is co-sponsored by Independent Sector, Guidestar, and the Better Business Bureau’s Wise Giving Alliance, organizations that complete the Charting Impact process can have their finished report published on-line at various websites that are often used by donors, foundation staff, and people interested in the program.

What do you think? Will this change the way nonprofits examine and share their effectiveness? Has your organization tried this? Share your thoughts below.

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