Measuring the Networked Nonprofit

I recently read Beth Kanter’s new book (with coauthor Katie Delahaye Paine): Measuring the Networked Nonprofit.

For me, it was even richer in applicable content and nonprofit inspiration than The Networked Nonprofit, maybe because I am sort of an evaluation geek, or maybe because it’s exciting to see how the field is advancing, and how much more we know about how working in new ways can advance nonprofit missions.

I will be working some of my favorite pieces from the book into posts over the next several weeks–I have sticky notes with citations all over my desk at this point–but, here, in this season of giving, I have some key concepts from the book and an offer to give away the extra copy of it I bought, to one randomly-selected person who leaves a comment about an evaluation question to which they wish they had the answer, for their nonprofit organization’s work.

The best part about the book is the way that it simultaneously demystifies and exalts measurement and learning. Here, it is accessible and valued, integral, but not scary. While a lot of the tips and tools help people think about how to measure what they’re doing with social media, really, the evaluation approach is valuable far beyond that aspect of nonprofit operations.

To get you thinking about measurement within your organization, think about:

  • Networked nonprofits measure failure first. Failure is more interesting, in some ways, and studying it can yield tremendous insights, if we learn not to avert our eyes.
  • We should experiment. When was the last time you deliberately tried something out, within your nonprofit, to see how it would work? If we weren’t afraid to fail, and if we started with questions we want to learn, then we would. The book has some very specific questions to identify opportunities to experiment with research questions and methods. I’d love to hear what you try.
  • Key performance indicators are what really matters. We have to figure out what we really want to know, and measure that, with a laser focus and a blind eye to much of the rest. As the authors say, “likes on Facebook is not a victory–social change is.” We have to be careful not to confuse means with ends, and this book helped me with that very important lesson.
  • Knowing more can improve our quality of life and that elusive ‘balance’, if we use data to figure out what we should really prioritize, instead of trying to do everything that sounds like a good idea. What headline would you most like to read about your work? Aim at that, and, probably, other things aren’t really that important.
  • It really is awesome to learn what evaluation and measurement can teach us. As one of the nonprofit leaders quoted in the book said, it’s really fascinating to learn what is fascinating to other people. That’s what measurement can tell us. We should care how many people like our Facebook status or follow our blog or sign up for our action alerts, not because it’s innately interesting that they did those specific things, but because that tells us something really fundamental about what people care about, and what they’re willing to do about the things they care about.

There’s a cool peer learning site that accompanies the book, definitely worth checking out as you make initial forays into measuring your social reach and real impact. If you’re still skeptical, read the list on p. 45. If you’re still, still skeptical, read some of the inspiring case studies about organizations that get it, and how measurement is making a difference for them.

You’ll become a measurement geek, too.

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