Jim Collins

Measuring Impact

I use a metric to measure the exertion of my cross-country ski training (at least when I am not recovering from viral meningitis, then I just use the “am I standing upright” measurement).  I outline a purpose for each workout and give it a percentage grade when I am done with 100% representing my workout matching perfect my purpose.  I multiple that by the duration of the workout, 0.25 to 5 hours and then multiple by the intensity with a scale of 1 very easy and 5 a maximum effort.  An example of the metric: my purpose the other day was to ski a long distance workout at level 2 (relatively easy pace) with minimal stops and focus on a specific skiing technique.  In reality I skied 3.5 hours and focused on technique but the intensity was higher than I planned since I had to fight a headwind and skied harder than I had intended.  The calculation: purpose index is .75 (75% of my purpose) x 3.5 hours x 3 (level 3 intensity)= 7.87 index.  Had I honored my purpose for the workout the formula would have been 1.0 (100%) x 3.5 hours x 2 (level 2 intensity)= 7.0.  That does not mean the intended workout was less effective than the actual session but it puts a metric on the exertion.  I then can monitor the impact of the workouts on my races and recovery.

So how can this type of metric be applied to your enterprise?  Many nonprofits lack a perfect metric (as noted by Jim Collins in his Good to Great and the Social Sector, a follow-up book to his best seller Good to Great).  So we invent our own.  Jim notes that a symphony in the Midwest decided to anecdotally follow the number of taxi cab drivers who mentioned the symphony as an attraction while driving tourists from the airport to downtown.  It would be extremely difficult to track this as a metric.  The symphony’s assumption was that if a taxi driver was promoting the symphony then they were well positioned as an attraction in the community.  So what value works for your cause?  World Bicycle Relief could track the number of bikes distributed into an African community but if nobody is using the bikes then the metric is flawed.  So perhaps you track the number of miles ridden on the bike, the number of times the bike is ridden each day, the gross weight of the supplies carried on the bike, or the time saved by riding a bike compared to walking.  Perhaps these measurements get you more information than just the number on units distributed. 

Return on investment (ROI) is a common refrain in the nonprofit board room, a carryover from the corporate world.  In some cases this is a very effective measurement.  The Robin Hood Foundation targets poverty in New York City.  The foundation employees an economist to measure the effectiveness of their grants.  They have established an index that measure the cost-benefit ratio of their grants and support.  Their approach is very focused and scientific.  The majority of the foundation’s board members come from the corporate world and this is a language they speak with ease.  Presenting the information in this manner meets the culture of the board and staff and can be explained readily to the high-energy, high-fiance world of Wall Street.  They now their audience and they are delivering the message in a business terminology.  

What do you need to measure?  Who is your audience?  How can you most effectively monitor the impact of your programs?  Is it scientific or anecdotal?  Are you collecting right data?  Is it relevant to your donors and customers?