Giving and Leading: Measuring Impact

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Charities all have a mission statement listing their good intentions, but they also would like to know if they are being effective. We’ll talk about how nonprofits keep track of their impact with Ben Powers, president of the Association of Fundraising Professionals Greater Arizona Chapter, Maureen West, project manager of Social Impact Measurement from the Arizona State University Lodestar Center for Philanthropy and Nonprofit Innovation and Lauren Schroeder, director of capacity building for the Alliance of Arizona Nonprofits.

TED SIMONS: Coming up next on "Arizona Horizon," we'll look at how nonprofits measure social effectiveness. Also tonight, learn about a new program that connects artists with communities. And we'll hear from the local author of a new book designed to help with early literacy. Those stories next on "Arizona Horizon."

"Arizona Horizon" is made possible by contributions from the friends of eight, members of your Arizona PBS station. Thank you.

TED SIMONS: Good evening and welcome to "Arizona Horizon." I'm Ted Simons. Phoenix bus drivers protested today outside city hall. Over 600 union members used the demonstration as a warning over a possible bus strike that would hit some of Phoenix's busiest routes by the end of the week. Talks between the bus drivers and the company that runs those routes for the city have been going on since April, with the union expected to reject a final offer tomorrow. If so, and if that final offer is indeed final, the strike could occur as early as Friday. Tonight's edition of Arizona giving and leading looks at the increased interest in accountability from nonprofits. All nonprofits have a mission statement listing a variety of good intentions, but there's also a need to know if those goals are being accomplished. Joining us now is Ben powers, president of the association of fundraising professionals greater Arizona chapter. Maureen west, project manager of social impact measurement from ASU's Lodestar center for philanthropy and nonprofit innovation. And Lauren Schroeder, director of capacity building for the alliance of Arizona nonprofits. Good to have you all here. Thanks for joining us. Increased interest in accountability. It seems like that is going on out there, true?

BEN POWERS: Yes.

TED SIMONS: Talk to us. Why?

BEN POWERS: Well, because the lifeline of nonprofits is philanthropy. There's Lots of money being passed between donors and receivers and people want to know if the money is being well spent.

TED SIMONS: Increased donations from business leaders especially but from all around, that is a factor, isn't it?

MAUREEN WEST: Yes, in fact, there is a lot of pressure on nonprofits to be accountable. There is pressure, or there is interest from funders. There is interest from even the clients want to know that the work is successful. Funders, board members, everyone wants to know that there is a good return on investment.

TED SIMONS: Is this similar to the for-profit or more similar than it may have been in the past?

LAUREN SCHROEDER: I think so. I think the demand is there from the everyday philanthropist, the donor that might give once to the bigger donors. And there is -- but it is also on the nonprofits themselves. Nonprofits want to be accountable and they want to meet their missions. They are looking at this impact on themselves as well. Are we making the difference that we want to be making? Because ultimately, they're passionate people.

TED SIMONS: Indeed. As far as evidence that proves a nonprofit is effective, what kind of metrics are out there?

BEN POWERS: Every nonprofit has a mission and vision. And it should lay out exactly what they want to see in the world and how they want to make that happen, and do they do that? At the end of the day, they measure against what they set out to do. We want to feed so many people. We want to educate so many people. We want to have so many art shows, we want to do whatever and did we do it, and did we do it efficiently?

TED SIMONS: When you measure it in that light, clarity of objectives has to be key doesn't it?

MAUREEN WEST: Absolutely. You have to understand the mission and what your main focus is. And you have to understand what you're hoping to accomplish. You have to know what your social impact will be. And that's really what you want to be going after. The problem and real challenge for nonprofits, they want to improve their programs. Funders want them to show accountability. But a lot of them don't know what to measure and how to measure.

TED SIMONS: That is what I was getting at. How did you know - as far as doing good that can be measured -- some of this stuff can't be measured?

LAUREN SCHROEDER: I see it as three buckets. How much did the program organization do? Number of clients served, number of services provided number of trainings held. Then there is how well did they do it? What was their completion rate? What was the efficiency? How long was the wait in the waiting room? And then there is the impact of that. The first two buckets, they're the easiest to measure. They know what they did. And then it gets harder to know how well did you do it? The big one, what difference was made? What was -- what behavior was changed? What knowledge was increased? What attitude was changed? And, so, and that can be more difficult.

TED SIMONS: You have to find out what that outcome is in the first place. The metrics have to be there to a certain degree.

MAUREEN WEST: At Lodestar we created two new programs built around these social measurements and how to do them. Programs are both for groups who need help. A lot of times there is a culture change that is required in order for a group to even approach this. And then another program for individuals on the tools. So we're trying to provide the knowledge and tools that will help people know how to measure through social impact.

TED SIMONS: Yeah, and I would imagine anecdotes which at one time may have been a good thing. Maybe not so good anymore?

BEN POWERS: Anecdotes are certainly good. That is not all there is. We have access to lots of data that we didn't use to have. Massive quantities and sifting through that is difficult but it is well worth the effort.

MAUREEN WEST: The anecdotes still are good, when evaluating and measuring social impact -- you want the human side. You don't want to just collect numbers. You can find out what happened through the numbers. But if you want to find out why and how things happen, you need to talk to the clients. Out of those conversations, you get good anecdotes.

BEN POWERS: And if you want to fund raise, which is what I do, that is important, but the real thing that gets it is the story. I can tell reams of data but all it takes is one good story to capture someone's heart.

TED SIMONS: Interesting. The idea of measuring output as opposed to measuring success, talk to us about that dynamic.

LAUREN SCHROEDER: Right. I mean, ultimately output is just the effort that you made. The effect is that impact piece and that can be very challenging especially when we're looking at trying to address issues of poverty. These are systemic issues. One program, one organization isn't going to able to be the tipping point for that. It takes a collective effort as well. Making sure when we are looking at a single nonprofit that we have realistic expectations for what their outcome and impact can be as a singular nonprofit and thinking about what is the collective impact that can really push the needle on these large systemic issues.

TED SIMONS: Difference between smaller nonprofits and big money groups.

MAUREEN WEST: There are big differences. I think the smaller and medium-sized nonprofits have the most challenges. My advice, besides taking our programs which are wonderful, is ask one simple question of your major program or any program that you want to start, ask what does success look like? Build programs or look at programs in place and make sure that you have measurements that measure that success. One problem with too many mid-size and small nonprofits they are not measuring the right things. They are not using the data they're collecting. Our approach is you should only collect data that you are going to use.

TED SIMONS: Are you seeing that out there where folks are showing you numbers and you're saying, that's nice, but what about this?

BEN POWERS: Well what's the story here? What is it that is going to make a donor say take my resources and make them yours. When might that happen?

TED SIMONS: Again, as we say, it is not about numbers only. It is about successful numbers.

BEN POWERS: Correct. Another problem smaller nonprofits have is that there are so many of them are duplicating services.

TED SIMONS: Interesting. Are they aware of that? --

BEN POWERS: How many are there now? There are 20,000 plus nonprofits in the state of Arizona.

TED SIMONS: Before we go then, last question, bottom line for nonprofits, what do they need to know as far as measuring success and knowing that they're doing what they are set out to do?

MAUREEN WEST: I think they need more education and that's what our center, obviously the ASU Lodestar center provides education and we are there for them for knowledge and to provide the tools.

TED SIMONS: Agree? Okay. I guess we will stop it right there then. Good to have you all here. Thank you for joining us. We appreciate it.

Ben Powers:President of the Association of Fundraising Professionals Greater Arizona Chapter,Maureen West:Project manager of Social Impact Measurement from the Arizona State University Lodestar Center for Philanthropy and Nonprofit Innovation,Lauren Schroeder:Director of capacity building for the Alliance of Arizona Nonprofits.

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