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Facing challenges

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Question:

What are the three biggest challenges nonprofits face in improving organizational effectiveness, and how can they address those problems?”

Answer:

The challenges we see and focus on are specific to outcomes measurement and benchmarking. Given that focus, the challenges nonprofits face generally include:

* Lack of confidence on what to measure and whether they will be judged poorly if the results are not positive.

* Lack of capacity or knowledge regarding the best way to approach measurement, identifying the right metrics, and consistently collecting and using relevant data for improvement.

* Lack of resources to assemble and successfully implement a meaningful measurement plan.

Nonprofits can effectively address these issues by first realizing continuous learning and growth is the only way to successfully operate in the current environment.

With that understanding, the following steps can be taken:

* Gather staff and stakeholder buy-in.  One basic method to improve effectiveness is to widely communicate efforts.  It may be pleasantly surprising who has a great idea to share.

* Identify the organization’s or program’s ultimate goals.  The mission is often a good place to start.

* Identify realistic metrics.  These should indicate the success of the given outcomes.  Realistic means there must be a person willing and able to gather data from the given constituency and a reporting system to collect data for analysis.  Start simple with a basic Excel document.

* Compare processes.  You might look at internal programs or existing departments that have successfully implemented metrics, or at outside organizations, which are effective and might have a measurement system that helped them.  Consider learning from friends at other nonprofit organizations or private companies.

— Compiled by Caroline Monday


Debra Natenshon is chief executive officer at the Center for What Works in Chicago, a nonprofit that works to help social-sector organizations measure programmatic performance and benchmark organizational success to demonstrate and improve results.

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