Effective Outcomes Measurement Is More Than Just Accountability
Wednesday, 13th December 2017 at 4:24 pm
Measuring outcomes isn’t just about accountability – it can make not-for-profit organisations more effective and maximise impact, writes Andrew Cairns, Community Sector Banking CEO.
Not-for-profit organisations are powerful forces for positive change in our society. From the frontlines supporting our community’s most vulnerable people to tackling global crises like climate change, NFPs have a genuine positive impact that ranges far and wide—and increasingly they are being asked to prove it.
There’s growing demand for not for profits to demonstrate their impact, from government and the community. Government-funded organisations face increasing pressure to “prove” their positive impacts in the community, whether in research, education and awareness, or service delivery. And there’s equal pressure on community-funded not for profits, which are accountable to a wide range of stakeholders, from members and donors to partner organisations and peak bodies.
Little wonder we’re seeing more NFPs adopt outcomes measurement methods to demonstrate the value of their work. While it’s an invaluable accountability tool, outcomes measurement shouldn’t just be seen as a way to prove to donors and the community that what you’re doing matters — it’s also a vital tool for working smarter and more effectively.
At its most basic, outcomes measurement can be defined as recording and quantifying what your organisation does and the change you achieve. In order to work smarter and maximise your impact, you need to cut through this data with analysis.
Don’t just measure the outcomes of programs – identify how they are effective, what’s working, what can you improve, and are there opportunities to scale? Beyond measuring financial returns, the number of ribbon-cuttings and how many people your programs have reached, ask how you can measure the impact on people – have you built resilience, capability and self-determination in people?
Having a granular view of what your organisation is achieving not only provides the basis for new frameworks for evaluation, strategy and governance, it can give valuable insight into potential improvements across an entire sector.
While the benefits are clear, outcome measurement remains challenging for not-for-profits. There are a host of reasons for this. Most obviously, the sector lacks data measurement and analysis capacity; outcome measurement is resource intensive and it can be cost prohibitive, particularly for smaller not for profits to engage third parties to do the job.
Another challenge is the lack of measurement standards across the sector. The social issues not for profits address are complex and on a staggering scale. Homelessness, poverty, public health, climate change – these are huge problems that resist simple quantification, making it hard to know whether your work is as effective as it should be.
What we have currently is a patchwork of standards and frameworks developed largely in the US and the UK. This makes it difficult to apply what we can learn from outcome measurement across a whole sector. Without shared measurement standards, the costs of investing in effective measurement are higher.
Like with many challenges in the not-for-profit sector, the answer lies in collaboration. We need to work together to develop and agree on common standards for measuring outcomes.
It’s clear that effective outcomes measurement will be vital for not for profits to lock in support for the long-term. But it can do so much more.
With the scale of the social crisis Australia faces today, together with shrinking funding, NFPs need to work smarter, towards strong, sustainable and happy communities. We need to take the next step to understand how outcomes measurement can improve not just the impact of a single not for profit, but entire sectors working towards common goals – let’s start the conversation.
About the author: Andrew Cairns is the CEO of Community Sector Banking. He believes NFPs are at the heart of a healthy society – they create the social fabric of those communities and ensure their wellbeing. After more than 30 years working nationally and internationally in the corporate sector, he maintains that business can and should be a force for good.