It’s the end of the year, and with 2015 wrapping up, most organizations are thinking about one thing: performance. Specifically, how well did their people perform? Did their leaders actually deliver on promised goals? And what about the bottom line—were financial goals met?

Many nonprofits are accountable to a governing body, such as a Board of Directors, for their performance. And while most are required to show evidence of achieving annual performance goals, too many do not have effective practices in place to measure such performance. Is your organization one of the many?

The next four articles on the Brighter Strategies Blog will look at one such performance practice: outcome measurement. If performance improvement is a challenge for your organization, then you’ve come to the right place.

In this blog series, we will explain some theory behind outcome measurement, dissect a real-world case study, and suggest practical action steps you can begin to take today. We encourage you to add to the discussion. Please share your thoughts in the comment section below each article. We want to hear the collective experiences and insights from the nonprofit community at large.

Let’s get started!

An introduction to outcome measurement

Whether or not you know anything about outcome measurement, here’s a refresher on the basics. An outcome describes a specific desired result. Outcome measurement is the determination and evaluation of a program’s results, and their comparison with the intended or projected results. It is a valuable tool to ensure the success of programs in nonprofits by:

  • Illustrating a program’s impact on participants and stakeholders
  • Providing regular feedback to help improve program services
  • Identifying what success in a program looks like and tracks to what extent that success is achieved.

Additionally, many local government bodies, funding organizations, and regulatory agencies require that nonprofits show evidence of their value to participants and the community, and the quality of their services. Outcome measurement will help you to do just that.

The outcome measurement process

Outcome measurement includes the following specific and actionable steps.

  1. Assess your organization’s readiness.
  2. Select the program and create a plan.
  3. Describe the program’s mission and activities.
  4. Identify the program’s intended results, or outcomes.
  5. Identify indicators of success for each outcome.
  6. Determine appropriate data collection processes, and collect data.
  7. Analyze data to better understand program achievements.
  8. Report data findings in a user-friendly format.
  9. Use the findings and take action to improve the quality of the program.

In the next three articles, we will illustrate how the above steps were put to work in a fictional organization, the American Winemakers Association (AWA). But first, a little background on the agency’s performance improvement challenges.

The opportunity

AWA is a trade association for winemakers across the United States. It was established in 1975 at a time when wine production began to sweep across the nation. Today the association has 5,000 members—including wine producers from every state in the continental U.S.

While many nonprofit associations are facing impending membership losses in the near future, AWA is anticipating the opposite. As more craft wineries crop up across the United States, winemakers are seeking membership with AWA for professional resources, and as a means to legitimize their businesses to American consumers. AWA is well-positioned for growth in the coming decade. The problem? The organization has yet to develop a process to accurately measure such explosive growth.

Recognizing its need for a performance management process, AWA’s Board of Directors charged the organization’s leadership team to establish an outcome measurement system. The executive team of five senior leaders invited Brighter Strategies to teach them the outcome measurement methodology.

In the coming weeks we will unpack this step-by-step process AWA used to implement outcome measurement. Stay tuned!