With this fresh start upon us, here are three of the ways I’m thinking about magnifying and measuring impact this year: revamping a theory of change, getting specific, and being realistic.
Resolution #1: Revamp Your Theory of Change
A theory of change is simply a way of capturing how you expect to achieve your mission. You have organizational goals, but what will you do to achieve those goals, and why do you think those activities are the right ones?
You may have seen complex logic models or full-page theories of change. But a strong theory of change doesn’t have to be complicated. In the most straightforward cases, your mission could be something like, “reducing childhood deaths from preventable diseases.” In this example, a basic theory of change could be: “we will achieve our goal by providing free vaccinations to children in the poorest places in the world.”
When you map out your theory of change, especially if you haven’t thought about it lately, don’t be surprised if you find assumptions and hidden steps that you sort-of kind-of knew were there, but haven’t really planned for. Use this as a chance to look for ways to test your assumptions via user testing, design thinking, or other methodologies (by the way: we can help with that!).
Finally, when you’re confident that you have a solid theory of change, make sure the entire team knows it too. That way, you’re all pulling in the same direction.
Resolution #2: Get Specific
We make a point to talk to our clients about their goals, so that we can make recommendations that help them achieve those goals. It’s easy to get away with talking about goals without specifics, like “increase vaccinations delivered.” And it can be intimidating to set targets, especially if some factors are out of your control.
Metrics can and should change annually. Let’s look at the vaccination example. In the first year, they might set a goal to administer 1 million vaccine doses. In the second year, they might set a goal to administer 1.2 million doses and to have at least 50% of those be part of a complete series.
Setting specific goals also ensures that you’re measuring your baseline. Check out some ideas for what to measure.
Resolution #3: Don’t Overdo It
Finally, make sure your effort is proportional to the value you get from understanding your impact. The nonprofit field is wrestling with this challenge: we know we need to be able to demonstrate impact and value, but we also know that truly mapping impact can be costly and challenging.
You can get really valuable data without sinking your time and money into trying to prove causal linkages. Just reading all the countless tools, articles, studies, and blog posts about measuring impact would take more time than anyone has lying around. As with all things, the area where you’ll have the most return on investment (ROI) is where the effort is low, but the data and data quality are high. This might mean simplifying the ways you measure donor engagement, for example, and spending more time and energy assessing your progress toward your core mission.
With that, I’ll leave you with a few impact guidelines:
- Segment your metrics. At Forum One, we often segment advocacy and fundraising metrics into three categories: awareness, engagement, and action. Of course, you’ll have other sorts of metrics for direct service and other kinds of work.
- Set a realistic number of goals. Hone in on 3-5 for the year, and revisit them regularly — at least once a quarter — to measure your progress.
- Map out your touch points. Once you have the theory of change for your organization, take some time to map out how it trickles down to your program(s) and/or department(s). The documentation process will help you refine your strategy.
Once you’ve checked off your New Year’s resolutions, take the next step and plan your content strategy to support your impact goals.
We can help. Get in touch today.