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Metrics and Non-Profits – Measuring Progress and Success

Recently, a nonprofit client asked us to help them measure its accomplishments by creating a series of metrics. Metrics may seem daunting but are essential because metrics measure the success of achieving your organization’s mission. As leadership and staff work to realize those missions, metrics will gauge that progress and help determine where and how to invest resources.

Photo by Charles Deluvio PCHA

Start with the Big Picture To begin, take a step back before you start collecting data, and determine institutional priorities as they pertain to your organization’s mission. Before determining metrics, you (and your staff and board) need to agree on the goals and objectives of your organization. Goals and objectives are both desired outcomes, but goals are broader while objectives are narrower and more detailed descriptions of how to achieve the goals. Within individual objectives are strategies and tactics that describe specific actions. The graphic below is a nice depiction of how these things relate to each other.

Taking a step back can also help refocus your organization on the bigger picture, and may require some detective work about the current situational landscape - i.e. does your organization have a set of goals and objectives articulated already? Does the board and staff set annual goals? Agreement on goals and objectives clarify and solidify an organization’s reason for being and gets everyone (staff, leadership and stakeholders) on the same page.

Develop Your Metric Road Map

Working with your mission statement and existing goals and objectives, determine what you want to measure. Be specific, otherwise, it can be like opening a firehose of data. The sheer volume of data can be overwhelming, so you need to cull and vet that data to turn it into useful information that addresses goals and objectives. Most nonprofits likely have a version of metrics that are obvious like membership, fundraising, admission, retail sales or room tax figures, but you may need to dig deeper and look at data through different prisms.

There are basically two types of data: quantitative and qualitative. Quantitative is what everyone thinks of when they hear the word “data”, these are so-called “hard numbers” as they pertain to your industry like funds raised, memberships, visitation or attendance, retail sales, room-nights, etc. Qualitative data is data that is more difficult to capture as its subjective and may be influenced by perceptions or interactions with staff or front-line personnel. While not as definitive or quantifiable, qualitative data is a useful as these insights provide opportunities for improvement. I’m sure you have experienced surveys asking you to rate an experience…that is an attempt to take qualitative experience and assign it a quantitative measurement! It is the combination of quantitative and qualitative that will provide insights about how to establish attainable metrics.

When determining your organization’s metrics ask yourself:

  • How closely does available the data track with your objectives? You may need to find other sources of data to fulfill your objective

  • Can the data be interpreted in different ways? If so, be careful not to present ambiguous information and determine how it supports your objectives

  • Who collects the data? Identify the who and how to make sure you can regularly receive it and that it is accurate.

  • How often is it collected? Keep in mind, your organization’s goals and objectives may be impacted by time of day, day of week or seasons in general and if so, your metrics need to reflect those timeframes.

  • Is there a cost? Metrics reflect the success of the organization so industry-specific reports or other proprietary reports may be a worthwhile investment

  • Who can analyze the data to make it useful? Metrics and data collected should be shared with multiple levels of leadership and staff to generate insights and identify areas for improvement

  • Remember, depending on your organization and what you want to measure, you may need to be creative in finding sources. Some types of data are kept by local, state or federal government and is free, although it may take some effort to get it from the originating agency. US Census data is a treasure trove of useful data, and the Bureau of the Census has a great website to help you find the data: ( While these are great resources, it can take effort and knowledge about methodologies, limitations and interpretations to dig through the data and get useful stuff. Census data is especially valuable if you want to look at geographic-based audiences or prospective audiences you wish to attract.

  • Other data is proprietary and only available for a fee. You may have heard of psychographics, the pairing of individual behavior (e.g. purchasing behavior, travel behavior, etc.) with demographics, which is available through a variety of proprietary sites.

Collect it, Analyze it and Keep it!

Once you begin collecting data, you will have a baseline to start comparing it over time. It is therefore necessary to collect the same data every week, month or year.

When you do your analysis, be careful when calculating things like ratios and percentage change, as these need context in order to be correctly understood. Statistical data can be easily mis-interpreted.

Use it!

As you review the information, be sure that it informs your decisions. If it’s good news (like, attendance up by 22%!) use it whenever appropriate in marketing materials, board reports and across your digital platforms.

If you need help, just give us a call or drop us email. We are here to help.

Photo by Charles Deluvio PCHA


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