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Outcome measurement for nonprofit organizations: 4 steps

June 14, 2021
Five nonprofit professionals gather around a meeting table with laptops displaying graphs to evaluate outcome measurement data.

Professionals at nonprofit organizations want to know that their programs are furthering their cause and having the desired effect on the community. For the most complete picture possible, you need to measure more than your inputs—you should also measure outcomes

Outcome measurement for nonprofit organizations is the process of assessing the direct and indirect impacts of a given activity. 

Measuring your organization’s outcomes is more than a way to evaluate your nonprofit’s success. Rather, nonprofits that clearly articulate their impact are more likely to retain existing donors, attract new support, and continue to grow. To help you get started, this guide will walk through four data-driven steps of outcome measurement for nonprofits.

1. Define nonprofit outcome measures

Before you start collecting data, determine which outcomes you want to measure. 

Many nonprofits will use their current activities to guide the outcomes they’ll track. However, it’s often more useful to start by evaluating your program goals so you understand what you’re trying to achieve. Ask yourself: “What does success look like for my organization?”

Then, select the metrics that accurately demonstrate if you’re accomplishing those goals. Besides tracking how many total people you served, participants’ demographic information, and attendance for each program, your outcome measurements should help evaluate whether you’ve furthered your organization’s purpose and bettered the lives of program participants in the long run.

2. Collect outcome measurement data

Once you’ve defined the outcomes you want to measure, you can begin collecting relevant data.

The key here is selecting data points that matter—the quality of your chosen metrics is more important than quantity. Collect information that is essential to your purpose and directly related to your desired outcomes. For the best results, leverage a variety of tools and resources to access this information, including:

  • Surveys
  • Forms
  • Interviews
  • Third-party providers
  • Assessments
  • Observations

Utilizing robust case and outcomes management software, such as Bonterra Case Management (formerly Social Solutions), can streamline your nonprofit’s data collection. Your organization can use this solution to collect and store data from participants, create custom forms, and allow form logic based on information filled out in form fields.

3. Maintain outcome data integrity

Next, ensure that your outcome data is accurate and usable. This step allows you to draw sound conclusions about the impact of your organization’s activities. 

Your software will allow you to store and leverage comprehensive data, streamlining your intake, analysis, and reporting. Since a case management system is only as good as the humans using it, allow sufficient time and resources to train your staff and volunteers on how to maintain integrity as they evaluate collected data.

Ultimately, the more accurate data you have, the better you can articulate the impact you make in your community.

4. Assessing your nonprofit’s outcomes

Now that you have your outcome measurement data stored in your database, you can begin to analyze the results and draw conclusions. To evaluate your success, use the following questions as a guide:

  • Are our programs making a tangible difference in the lives of the people we serve?
  • Should we be focusing more on certain programs than others?
  • How can we demonstrate our impact to donors and funders?

Your organization’s impact—and, subsequently, how well you fulfill your purpose—depends on how you answer these questions. Once you’ve drawn conclusions, use them to develop your program reports, which you can refer back to when planning for the future.

Making the most of nonprofit outcome measurement

Nonprofit outcome measurement is an ongoing learning process. In addition to regularly collecting and analyzing data, remember to share your conclusions with key stakeholders. This way, you can demonstrate your nonprofit’s value, earn their buy-in, and get their feedback on improving your outcome measurement capabilities.

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    Program Management
  • Human services
  • Nonprofits
  • Coordinating social services