I’ve been talking about impact measurement a lot lately, and what to do when funding sources ask you to measure outcomes or impact. But when I talk to partners, nonprofits, and people participating in our data courses, a lot of feedback I get suggests that, aside from when donors demand it, many organizations don’t understand what impact measurement actually is or how it can help them do their jobs. It’s a term used so often that many people don’t want to admit they’re not exactly sure what it means.
So maybe it’s time to address the elephant in the room.
What is Impact Measurement?
Impact measurement is not simply some new hoop you have to jump through to get funding. It’s not a roadblock or a technicality. Quite the opposite, in fact. Impact measurement is a valuable tool — one you really can’t afford to be missing out on.
We’re still early in the new year, and probably more than a few of us are toiling away at the gym as part of resolutions to get in better shape. Let’s compare our fitness efforts to a project undertaken by a nonprofit. You go to the gym, you take the stairs at work, you’re counting calories — you’re invested. You’re giving this your all.
Now imagine you never once stepped on a scale, or checked to see if you could fit in those skinny jeans that were too snug before. How would you know if your efforts were paying off? They might be, no question — but it would be nearly impossible for you to know what kind of progress you were making, or how much of that progress was directly attributable to your efforts.
That’s what going without impact measurement is like. Sure, you’re probably doing some good. But you have no way at all to know how much you’re achieving — or what’s working and what’s not.
Failure vs. Success vs… More Success
But I already know we’re making a difference!
Impact measurement isn’t necessarily just about determining if your initiative is succeeding or failing. Success comes in degrees, and merely knowing you’re moving in the direction of your goal is not the same as being able to quantify your progress. Measuring impact allows you to fine-tune your efforts and maximize the return on your investment — be it dollars, time, or talent.
Are you talking about performing an RCT (Randomized Control Trial)?
Randomized control trials are a wonderfully scientific way to measure outcomes without bias, and ideal if you’re working in a lab. Unfortunately, while RCTs can be applied to nonprofit initiatives in certain circumstances, the reality is that they can be prohibitively expensive and ethically difficult to implement. (More on that in future posts!)
So, what is impact measurement then?
Impact measurement isn’t simply measuring what you’re doing; instead, it is about measuring how your project is changing the world. This lets you both quantify the change you see and also determine what part of the change you are responsible for (versus change that would be happening naturally anyway.) Think of it less as a “Did this work?” and more of a “What effect did this have?” sort of question.
Impact Measurement in Practice
We worked together with project team members to help them analyze their data in new ways — ways that could demonstrate the impact of the project on the community they were working in. The results showed women in the area who owned cows were increasing productivity much faster than men who owned cows — a huge breakthrough, since women in the program were historically extremely poor and often disempowered. The revelation enabled CARE to invest additional money, time and focus on this exciting aspect of the project.
Once the team was able to show the nuanced and complex differences the program was making in the lives of people they worked with, funding for the project increased and their public profile grew rapidly.
Impact measurement not only allowed the team to focus resources on parts of their program that were really making a difference, but it enhanced their ability to communicate the difference to the rest of the world. It improved the work they did and grew the resources they had to continue.
Need Help? We’re Here!
At Datassist, we recognize that you are working hard for meaningful change. Our team is here to provide support and assistance in measuring the impact of your efforts and communicating that impact to the world around you. If you’d like to learn more about impact measurement or need help using data to tell your story, get in touch with us today.