Shared Measurement Systems for Non-Profits

Attended a great webinar this morning hosted by FSG Social Impact Advisors. They are a non-profit consultancy focusing on social impact measures.

The webinar talked about some of the research they have done in the sector. One of the fundamental challenges for non-profits and funders is that funders naturally want to see the results of their grants and investments. The problem arises that non-profits then need to report back to every funder for every grant in different formats. The FSG research looked at groups that are using shared measures to minimize this impact, save money and learn from each other.

They have identified three main categories of sharing measurment

1. Shared Measurement Systems – A common platform to report different goals and measures. www.successmeasures.org is an example of this type of system for community impact measures with over 200 orgs using the system.

2. Comparative Performance Systems – A system that uses identical measures to compare performance. The Cultural Data Project is an example of this type of system used by thousands of non-profit cultural organizations across the U.S.  And an example of one useful by very small organizations in the cultural sector.

3. Adaptive Learning Systems – A system that uses identical measures to align efforts and goals. Strive is an example of this type of system to connect leaders across sectors around a common vision of education support. The cool thing about this project is that the participating groups really get to learn from each other, identify missing pieces and develop new programs.

What is interesting about all of these categories is that they are sector driven. The benefits of the measurement and data accrue not just to funders (the traditional beneficiaries) but to the sector and the non-profit organizations themselves.

I believe this model is the way of the future for non-profit organizations and measurement. The bottom-up development approach, the focus on “usefulness” of the measures for organizations and the drive for collaboration around measure development are all critical in creating effective measurement systems. I believe this is also a great example of the trend toward openness and collaboration in the non-profit space.

Finally, there is an amazing opportunity here to connect this movement with the open data and open government movements. Shared measurement systems like this can benefit from benchmark and other data held in government systems. For example, Strive is looking to access data on school performance stored in State data systems for comparison.

I’m looking forward to seeing the evolution of these strategies as well as integrating this thinking into the Demonstrating Value Initiative and our own social sustainability reporting.

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