It can be tricky to know how to measure the difference your nonprofit is making. But measuring your impact is crucial for nonprofits of all shapes and sizes. It’s possible some of the following questions won’t apply to your nonprofit, but they can serve as a helpful starting point. Having clear measurements can help you quantify your impact and set clear, attainable goals to help you make a difference.
What population are you serving?
It may seem obvious, but the first step to measuring your impact is to make it clear who or what you’re serving. The more specific you can be, the better. For an afterschool music program, they could be students in grades 4-8 who live in Nashville. Or for a conservation organization, your impact could be better measured geographically by drawing a radius around where you’d like to focus, like a 25 mile radius around Lake Michigan, for example.
When digging into the specifics, look for tools that can help you find data. In our afterschool music program example, keep in mind that many public schools have reporting systems that keep track of data like percentage of students living at or below the poverty line, race, ethnicity, and how many children are in each grade in each school district. If your target population lacks data, don’t be afraid to start collecting your own! Creating surveys can be a good place to start. Some data is better than none at all.
How many (people, animals, etc.) are being helped by your efforts?
Many grants require you to at least estimate how many people, animals, etc. you’re serving in a certain period of time. Keeping track of the number you serve can be as simple as keeping a mandatory sign up sheet to count every person who receives food from your food pantry, or keeping a copy of every adoption application to keep track of how many animals are adopted from your shelter.
What are the short-term benefits of your charitable program?
Knowing your immediate impact on your target population or geographic area is crucial, and typically fairly obvious. Short term benefits of a program serving veterans could be the amount of meals you provided to homeless veterans or the classes you taught to help them find jobs.
What is the long-term impact of your charitable program?
If we continue using the same veterans’ organization example, the long-term benefits of your services for veterans could be that more veterans in your community are employed and have housing. A common long-term impact of charitable programs is how it affects the local economy. Is there a problem that your charitable program solves? How much would it cost if your community had to deal with the outcomes of that problem?
For example, let’s say your program engages youth who have been involved with the juvenile justice system to prevent them from re-entering the system. If you prevent 10 teens from entering the juvenile justice system, the economic impact of that program ripples. You’ve saved the money that would incur from a trial or potential detainment. And if the youths are productive members of society, you’ve also added the benefits that come along with that.
The beauty of charitable work is that your impact often multiplies beyond the immediate impact. Don’t be afraid to measure and set goals for your larger-scale, long-term impact as well. The best charities are always aiming to put themselves out of business by eliminating the problem they solve altogether.
How will your (community, population, etc.) look different if your nonprofit didn’t exist?
Similarly to the last question, ask yourself how your community or target population would look different if your organization wasn’t there to lend a helping hand. Asking this question can help you identify both short-term and long-term impacts of your program. As an added bonus, ask this question to staff and volunteers of your nonprofit to see if they come up with additional information.
By regularly keeping your populations, programs and overall mission at the forefront, your organization’s focus will be sharper than ever, which is appealing to both funders and team members. Finding new ways to measure your impact can be an exciting and rewarding way to spread the word about your mission and see your progress unfold. How will you begin tracking your good work today?