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Measuring Impact, Not Just Activities

Give yourself and your organization the credit you deserve by reporting on your impact and not just the sum of your activities.

A few years ago, I had a humbling experience that changed my outlook on measuring digital strategy.  I had been working on a digital communications strategy for a major foundation and it was time to brief the new communications executive on the project and all it had accomplished. 

He walked into the meeting with one question: “why should I care?” He then sat there silently. 

My team and I had been working with his organization for the past year. During that time, we had re-launched the foundation’s website, developed a comprehensive social media engagement plan, set up an email outreach schedule, and put in place an analytics strategy that encompassed the full spectrum of the foundation’s online communications. All in all, a considerable amount of time, effort and money had been poured into the plan. 

And yet, he was not interested in my infographics depicting how many more people had come to the site, how many retweets we had inspired, or how much the email click-through rate had shot up. He wanted to know how many lives we had improved, and he did not care about what I had to say.

It was in that moment that I knew I need to take a different approach.  I needed to ensure that I was speaking the same language as leadership and framed success in their terms, especially in terms of making an impact. 

Impact vs Output

Impact vs OutputIn nonprofit or foundation communications, we’re working every day to get the message out, engage with key audiences, and motivate them for action. It’s easy to to recite a list of all the things you and your team completed that period (e.g., published two reports with thousands of downloads; authored eight blog posts; live-tweeted at three events; sent out 10,000 emails within 1,300 clickthroughs; issued a press release); however, it can lead to falling into the reporting trap that I had. Instead, you must provide metrics that tell the story of how you are moving your mission forward; not how many links were clicked. 

Developing an Impact Measurement

To ensure you and your team are able to communicate success in terms of moving your mission forward, take some time to reflect on the following questions. 

The Big Picture

What is your organization trying to achieve through its mission?
You must understand the root of what your organization is trying to achieve and how it collectively defines success before you can demonstrate progress towards it. 

Organizational Tactics

What initiatives is the organization taking on to support this mission?
Develop a strong understanding of what work is being done across the organization and how it is internally structured.

Report Users

Who is leading each of these initiatives?
By knowing who is leading each initiative, you know who will need to provide input into defining success, and who could eventually be using your reporting to make future strategic decisions.

Output Metrics

What outputs are being produced for each initiative?
It’s imperative that you know how each work product (e.g., event, report, blog, etc.) supports each initiative, and are able to speak to its outputs in the same terms. In cases where this is not clear, revisit whether or not these products are worth continuing as they are.

Target Users

Are these outputs reaching your target and secondary audiences?
When it comes to achieving your mission, not all people have equal value.  It’s important that you focus your reporting specifically on those who can make a difference. 

Engagement Metrics

Is the target audience using or engaging with the outputs in a constructive way? Did they take constructive action? 
Simply distributing materials to target audiences does not tell us if they actually read, used or acted on them. Capture their engagement through their actual actions, for example: the time they spent or the depth they scrolled within your website, if they registered and/or attended an event, if they signed a petition, etc.

Impact Metrics

What methods can you use to monitor progress towards your mission?  
By reflecting back on your organizational initiatives, conduct a survey of your target audiences to see if you’ve shifted their mindsets or motivated them for action. Additionally, you can leverage existing surveys, polls, ratings or studies conducted by others to monitor change over time. 

Measuring Influence

What were your organization's contributions to an overall outcome or impact?
You don’t work in a vacuum, and it’s important to acknowledge your role, and the role of others, in an outcome. As an example, a great model that a large nonprofit we've worked with uses a three-tiered approach to measure its impact: 

  1. Decisive: the weight of evidence suggests the outcome would not have been achieved without the program’s efforts.
  2. Important: multiple actors contributed to the outcome and we played a substantive role.
  3. Inconsequential: the program played little or no part in the outcome and would have occurred without its involvement.

Bringing it Together

As I’ve been working with foundations, nonprofits and government clients for over a dozen years now, I am the first to say that assembling a holistic digital strategy and quantifying its impact on your mission isn’t easy. There is no one-size-fits-all approach, but there are best practices for both data collection and reporting

It takes a deep understanding of your organization’s mission, what outcomes you are looking to achieve, and how you are working to achieve them in order to develop methods to monitor progress. We’ve worked with over 50 organizations to do just this, so if you are new analytics strategy, or are looking for ways to tie your analytics strategy to your organizational mission, we’re here to help.

For more on measuring the impact of your activities, be sure to take a look at the results of our 2016 survey "Do Your Communications Efforts Measure Up?"

Have a specific measurement question?

Each organization is unique with its own communications and measurement challenges. If you'd like to go over some specific questions you are still struggling with, feel free to get in touch. We'd be happy to set up a call to chat.

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