Measuring impact is important and sometimes a buzz board. This is very practical advice about how to do it.
Surely measuring impact matters but we need to be realistic about the constraints. It requires a level of research expertise, commitment to longitudinal study, and allocation of resources that are typically beyond the capabilities of implementing organizations. It is crucial to identify when it makes sense to measure impacts and when it might be best to stick with outputs — especially when an organization’s control over results is limited, and causality remains poorly understood.
Overcoming these obstacles will require investors and front-line organizations to make a long-term commitment to research and collaboration. Simply repeating the mantra of measuring impact won’t get us there.
In 2011, Eric Ries published The Lean Startup, which challenged startup founders to build and run their companies in a new way, maximizing customer value while minimizing wasted effort. In an industry with a 99% failure rate, The Lean Startup aimed to give startups a better chance of success and lasting growth.
Lean Impact is bringing Lean Startup principles to nonprofits and the social sector by thoughtfully adapting those principles to the unique challenges and opportunities of organizations working for the social good.
Why Lean for Nonprofits?
Lean principles aren’t just for startups. Lean principles are for innovators, which every nonprofit is. Lean principles are for cash-constrained organizations operating in an “environment of uncertainty”, which nonprofits do. And lean principles are for organizations determined to create the most impact possible with limited resources, which nonprofits are.
Lean Impact is About:
Figuring out what creates real impact and discarding what doesn’t
Shortening the time in the “create – measure – learn” cycle
Measuring the things that matter
Operating with fewer wasted resources
Leveraging forward-thinking technologies to achieve our goals
Gathering continual feedback from our community
Adapting funding sources to foster innovation
Creating a culture that sees failure as a learning that brings us closer to a solution
mention is a media and social media monitoring tool. Create alerts and be informed about any new mentions in real-time.
Beth Kanter's insight:
Now that Google is killing off Google Alerts, looking for a good monitoring tool that is simple and free. Here it is. It does keyword searches and puts them in dashboard connected to your social accounts so you can reply in real time. Paid model includes more volume and features, but the free version should be just fine for smaller nonprofits.
Most charitable organizations aren't quite ready to make the leap.
Beth Kanter's insight:
Of course, nonprofits cannot hope to magically reap the potential of medium data without some hard work. Here's what nonprofit leaders need to keep in mind:
Don't freak out. Nonprofits often panic about data because they worry about revealing weaknesses or compromising their funding. Remember that data are meant to complement intuition and stories, not replace them. Information should inform, not decide.
Focus on what nonprofits have in common. Nonprofits need to agree on — and then adopt — basic data standards. Every nonprofit may well be its own unique snowflake, but if we focus only on what makes us different, we'll never reap the rewards of medium data. We all must be willing to share our stories in similar language, through shared formats, and on common platforms. As part of this, nonprofits need to support the central players that are building the core information infrastructure — whether the Foundation Center (data about foundations), the Global Impact Investing Network (data on impact investing), or my own organization, GuideStar (data about individual nonprofits).
Default to openness. Medium data only works if we share. Most nonprofits are simply too small to have a critical mass of data on their own. But together, we have enough data to reap immense insight and impact. There will always be data an organization should not share — but we need to switch our default from opacity to openness. Instead of opting-in to transparency when nonprofits feel like it, we should opt-out only when necessary.
This post was originally published on RodneyFoxworth.com I had the wonderful opportunity to speak at BmoreFail conference about failure and risk-taking in the nonprofit space, a critically important topic that deserves increased attention...
Beth Kanter's insight:
The lightbulb moment for me is that we are structured as a sector to have a BUILD – MEASURE – LEARN cycle that lasts three years (sometimes longer)…the time it takes to get a grant, execute against that grant, write the grant report during and after the grant, and potentially renew. So the underlying problem isn’t about willingness to take risk, the underlying problem is the false premise that long cycle times make sense – when in fact as a sector we need new and better solutions nearly everywhere and need to create engines of innovation to get us there.
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