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Measuring impact with not-for-profit dashboard indicators

In our previous blog article from Baker Tilly’s series about tracking not-for-profit outcomes, we highlighted some of the metrics that not-for-profits can define their success with. You can use these indicators to assess whether the not-for-profit is on the right track, and prove your positive results to donors and grant managers who want to invest in effective not-for-profits only.

Knowing what to track is an important start, but the hard part comes next: figuring out how. Not-for-profits are in the dark about outcomes because the necessary data is hard to capture, categorize, and quantify in a meaningful sense without the right not-for-profit dashboard indicators.

Consider this example: A not-for-profit has a mission to improve the lives of adolescents by connecting them with mentors. That’s an admirable endeavor – but it’s also abstract. How do you identify and quantify an improvement in someone’s life? Furthermore, how do you evaluate whether a not-for-profit is using resources (money, time, staff etc.) as effectively as possible based on the outcomes achieved? It’s a complicated calculus.

Three types of data to measure success

In the same way that height and weight don’t reveal someone’s health, it takes lots of data points to evaluate whether a not-for-profit is successful. They segment into three categories:

  • Inputs – the resources used to conduct activities
  • Outputs – the number of activities conducted
  • Outcomes – the results of each activity

Returning to the mentoring not-for-profit: It takes a certain amount of staff and funding to run the program (inputs), which attracts a certain number of adolescents and mentors (outputs). The final result (outcomes) might translate as better performance in school, healthier relationships with friends and family, or less contact with drugs/alcohol.

Most not-for-profits have plenty of data on inputs and outputs (money spent, program attendance etc.) but much less related to outcomes. The qualitative nature of outcomes makes them harder to observe directly, so consider using surveys or interviews (whatever makes sense) to investigate how programs impact the participants.

One place to evaluate not-for-profit outcomes

What data you collect and how will vary widely, but all not-for-profits will need to rely on a centralized platform for managing everything relevant to outcomes. Combining in-depth financial data with comprehensive operational data, the platform should incorporate everything necessary to understand outcomes and streamline how complex data crystallizes into clear insights.

In the absence of such a platform, not-for-profits would have to solicit data from multiple stakeholders, integrate it manually, then analyze it methodically before they could understand anything about outcomes.

Relying on a not-for-profit KPI dashboard that updates outcome metrics in real time sounds much simpler. It’s possible with today’s technology, and accessible with the right partner. Stay tuned for our next post on using not-for-profit dashboard indicators to tell the story of your success. In the meantime, explore the KPIs that demonstrate your outputs and impacts in this eBook, "How Measuring the Right KPIs for Nonprofits Increases Donations."

Allison Webb
Director, CPA
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