Are You Counting or Are You Measuring?
A person who just counts things can only tell you that $537,891 was donated online to the organization last year. Yes, that’s a number, but there’s not much value in it. Not a lot of insight. It doesn’t pass the “so what and who cares?” test.
A person who measures things wants to know a lot more: What was it in the past? What is it today? Where do you want it to be in the future? What’s the value of the difference? These are questions that help measure metrics and give organizations answers.
The importance of measuring instead of just counting online metrics comes into focus when looking at benchmarks. Every year, several reports come out about trends in the nonprofit sector. These benchmarking reports are typically based on data from hundreds or thousands of nonprofit organizations.
The benefit of benchmark reports is that they can help you compare your organization’s performance to others'. But if you are counting and not measuring, then they are of absolutely no value. How others are doing doesn’t matter if you don’t have a firm grasp on your own performance.
Keep in mind that measuring something is more important than measuring everything. Start with the core metrics. Expand over time, and begin to test different scenarios, time frames and constituent groups. Share your results internally and with other nonprofit organizations. Focus on lessons learned and how to improve results by turning raw data into useful information.
Good metrics are based on a clear understanding of what is being measured and the ability to apply the findings to the decision-making process. It is never too early or too late to start an online metrics program in your organization. Remember that if you can't measure it, then you can't manage it. Metrics help remove the guessing about how things are going and the direction in which they are moving toward.
Steve MacLaughlin is the vice president of data and analytics at Blackbaud and best-selling author of “Data Driven Nonprofits.” Steve has spent 20-plus years driving innovation with a broad range of companies, government institutions and nonprofit organizations. He serves on the board of the Nonprofit Technology Network and is a frequent speaker at conferences and events. Steve earned both his undergraduate degree and a Master of Science degree in interactive media from Indiana University.