Measuring With The Power Of Giving

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If its not easy it’s going to fail.
Farron Levy
How could you not want to sink back in your seat with a huge sigh of relief after hearing that?
I feel less angst ridden already!
Many thanks to Con Edison for hosting the Power of Giving Forum on Social Impact Measurement.  As one of their grantees, I really appreciate their understanding of their partners in the nonprofit world and their support of the work we do.  Measurement, metrics, matrix… these have always been words that cause me mild levels of panic or worry, always stressful, never good for your skin.
I slipped into the back of the cavernous conference room, right on time, right next to the coffee set up.
My logic model dictates proximity to caffeine as an indisputable influencer of key performance indicators.  If you have no idea what that means, don’t worry.  I will explain.
The presentation entitled Measurement Principles: What, How and When was given by Farron Levy, the President of True Impact, a consulting firm that measures the impact of social investment of large corporations and non profits.  He demystified the spectre of data by walking us through a simplified and easily digestible framework that we could use for our individual programs.  We learned how goals, objectives, strategies and metrics can align to create more successful programs and robust bottom lines.
Here are my takeaways from this all day convening

Why measure?

We have to sell the story of what we do to remind our funders of our value, our brand.  Remember, they actually need us to help them do community work.  Measurements can help expand these relationships and increase the perception of your value.  In addition to inputs and outputs, the best often measure outcomes like beneficiaries served, employee satisfactions, impressions.  Outcomes are the key to proving and improving value.  Measurement can help to prove value of your programs, to improve effective management, to tell your cost per outcome story in an neat soundbyte i.e. “2K per victim to achieve safety”.

What Are Bottom Line Outcome Measures?

Revenues – # of customers, funders, units, prices
Costs – salaries, staff, materials, time, expenses
Social Value – change in social condition, market value of goods and services

Where do you start?

Here are three important things to do:

1. Focus On The Bottom Line

Through a business lens, you would do two things –
Increase revenue – number of customers, funders
Reduce cost – skills, training, retention
Through a social lens, you would –
Promote social value – intervention in a social area to change a social condition
Standard performance metrics are rarely defined.  If you define the qualitative outcome or change in social condition, this becomes the primary unit you can count.

Example:

Corporations and nonprofits measure money and time value invested by asking:
How many people are served?  Say 1,000 are served,  but how many have achieved a defined social value?
How many media impressions have been achieved?  Say 1,000,000,  but how many have changed awareness and attitudes that influence their
behavior as customers or potential hires?
Define these outcomes that are resulting improvements because of interventions.
Once defined, you can count them as units of behavioral change.
 OK, here’s another thing Farron said that made me feel better:

2. Use Proxy Data

No one does it perfectly.

Example:

Let’s say you want to pitch an investment of $150000 and to reach 1000 people.  How are you going to convince a funder this is a good investment?
What is success?  What is the social impact?
Do a sampling as representative to base an estimate of greater population.
You can use proxy data when necessary to support your case.  You can sample your field, past results if you have them or other similar credible studies.
Science, the EPA, government and education organizations do this.  Businesses can cite prior histories and estimate.  You can go to the most knowledgeable person for an educated guess and plan to go forward to drill deeper.  The key is to be transparent and cite your sources.

Question:

How do you measure the social value outcome of a student scholarship where the effects may happen years in the future?
Frame forecast so the immediate outcome is that kids get scholarships to go to school.  Proxy data from a credible source, such as the Department of Education, can be used to show that this changes lives from the intervention point of the scholarship through the ripple effect of higher earnings and quality of life.

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Need another cup of coffee… need to run on the beach

 

3. Do This Right Now

Plan upfront to integrate measurement.

Example:

You just had your annual gala and you are scratching your head wondering if there are any prospective funders, customers on your guest list?  Instead of prospecting after the event is over, you could add a line on the registration form that gives you connection data for the future.
Ask yourself, what are the impacts you care about that you could capture in regular practices?

Wrap up:

Focus on bottom line
Use proxy data
Do this right now
Do I think I can do this?
Well, I am going to give it my very best shot and release my inner data diva.
I do have a lot of questions as did the rest of the audience at the end of his presentation.
The question from the audience that I liked the most was this one:
Where does failure fit into this model? Risk?  How do you present this to sponsors honestly?
This is an important point.  Funders need to be educated and to know that this is part of an improvement process over time.
We have a theory of change, interact and anticipate and monitor.  By measuring, we can intervene, improve rack when success and failure occur and make adjustments accordingly.
Present this concept to funder as well thought out, honest and transparent in creating common value.  The key is to educate funders that continuous improvement is success and an empowering concept.

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Measuring Success: What Kind Of Yardstick Do You Use?

 


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lovely photo from diane

 

post by Hoong Yee Lee Krakauer

 

 

 

Are all of the front desk assistants of the National Endowment for the Arts pregnant?

Some things you simply cannot avoid wondering about if you happen to be outnumbered by young women, hands cradling their swollen bellies, waddling around the hallowed halls of the NEA.  “It is a very busy time.  Everyone is going from one meeting to another,” murmured Vanessa, a slender woman – not pregnant – who greeted us at the offices for local arts agencies where we  were scheduled for a meeting.

This is our yearly pilgrimage to Mecca, a time for me to personally touch base with the folks who shepherd our grant requests through the labrynth of their panel process and with whom I have become good friends with over the years.  I like the train ride down to DC, wandering wide eyed through Union Station and stopping to say a quick hello to everyone before they duck into yet another meeting.

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the lovely ladies working for local arts agencies

“We love when people come to see us, especially now that our travel budgets have been cut.  I wish more people did,” said one director to me who I caught grabbing a quick lunch at the Indian take out place.  I have to admit I don’t understand why more nonprofits don’t make it a priority to visit funders.  Every time I sit down with the directors, it is a chance for me to let them know what we are doing, what we intend to apply for and very often I will gain a valuable insight or piece of advice that will make our proposal rock.  If you want to be a successful grantwriter, consider this:  there is an art to writing for money.

This time, the big thing is innovation and transformation.  They want something that presents new learning or insights.  Something replicable and measurable.

“What does that look like to you? ”  I asked.  “Can you give me an example?”

Answer the Question, Goddamnit!

The director smiled.  “We talk about that a lot  The answer to your question is that we will know it when we see it.”

This is an answer?

They don’t know what a successful innovative and transformative project is.  And if they don’t know that, they cannot describe it.  Or measure it.

LIke many other funding opportunities out there, the NEA wants to see their dollar make an important impact.  Something that changes and transforms lives.  A model that can be replicated in other places.  And it falls to the artists and creative thinkers to visualize a project that can do all that and, most of all, deliver such an experience that allows the vision of the funders to bundle up the act and set up shop in another place.

It is a competitive category.  We need to leave no doubt among the grant panelists that yes, we are worthy of funding.  Why?  Because we transform lives.

How do we do this?

By creating a picture of the success we intend to create and a space for a funder to feel part of something that is moving towards real and tangible goals with benchmarks that can feed back into the process.

 

Do They Know?

Anyone who tells you “they will know it when they see it” has no idea what “it” is, which actually is a very good thing.  It is an admission of not knowing what they want to achieve, only knowing why.  This is a very good thing.  It tells me funders are willing to be outcomes focused and open to anything  as long as it is new in philosophy and that it changes something. To make art make a difference.

 

 

What You Should Know

For us, transformation has to be demonstrated by what an artist does with the skills, learnings and confidence gained by being part of what Queens Council on the Arts provides.  It is no longer and, in my book, never was enough to describe success as well attended events or satisfied customers.  How do I know this and why do I believe so strongly in this comes from simply watching the body language, especially the eyes, of the directors.  Their eyes did not light up when we talked about how happy the artists were to be part of the workshops, and to learn new skills.  We will have to create a vivid image of success that we will set as our goal which will be the artist as a confident, engaged, creative professional whose art can change the world.  Our yardstick will be the gradual changes their art and their actions cause in the world.

Here’s an excerpt from Marion Conway’s summary of the 2013 Annual Letter by Bill Gates:

In the last year Beth Kanter has been talking about the importance of measurement to the networked nonprofit.  Now Bill Gates opens his 2013 Annual letter talking about it with a quote from William Rosen’s  “The Most Powerful Idea in the World.”  Bill writes: “Without feedback from precise measurement, Rosen writes, invention is “doomed to be rare and erratic.” With it, invention becomes “commonplace.”……..But in the past year I have been struck again and again by how important measurement is to improving the human condition. You can achieve amazing progress if you set a clear goal and find a measure that will drive progress toward that goal-in a feedback loop similar to the one Rosen describes. This may seem pretty basic, but it is amazing to me how often it is not done and how hard it is to get right.

 

There, I said it.  And I believe it.

What does success look like, move like, sound like for what you do?

This way of thinking could be catching.  Unlike pregnancy, thank God.

 

 

 

 

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Hoong Yee

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