Posted by: Nathaniel | July 12, 2008

Nonprofit impact assessment software: new concept or new execution?

The Baltimore Sun wrote an article a few days ago about Social Solutions, the develors of the ETO (Efforts to Outcomes) Software which helps nonprofits assess and measure their impact over time. I haven’t actually used the software, but from both the article and what I’ve read on the Social Solutions page, it sounds like rather than trying to create a suite of metrics that cuts across types of social activity, the tool allows nonprofit users to customize what they measure and compare their impact across time.

That gets a big thumbs up from me, at least conceptually. It recognizes implicitly that while the type of activies carried out and impact desired by nonprofits might not be as easily measurable as business sector activities, the point of assessment is to improve a nonprofit’s impact over time. Even if the data doesn’t allow for an easy comparison across organizations, measuring the way your impact changes over time at least shows how you as an organization are improving your ability to achieve your mission.

There is one part of the article that’s a little dubious. Tom at 501(c)3 Files rightly bristles a little at the statement that: “[Nonprofit measurement is] a newer way of thinking. Traditionally, nonprofits have been satisfied to know they’re working hard to do good work, but rarely set measures to determine what was good.”

Its certainly true that there’s more vibrancy and urgency around the impact assessment conversation these days, but its certainly not true that nonprofits have ever been “satisfied” that they’re working hard. Nonprofit assessment is harder – far harder, in many cases – than for profit assessment, and we simply haven’t invested enough in helping the sector develop best assessment practices.

How do nonprofits out there measure their impact? Do you use off the shelf solutions adapted from other groups? Have you created your own assessment systems? What are your tips?

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