In what seemed like an instant, our reality has changed drastically with COVID-19, and the social sector has been anything but immune to the ripple of panic that has swept the globe. Our natural human reaction in these circumstances is to grasp at anything that looks even remotely like a flotation device. In this new reality, many nonprofits are facing a heightened obligation to bring responsible leadership to the situation room. And while so much about the immediate future is still vastly unknown, decision-making over the weeks and months to come is sure to have a long-term impact on your organization.
Here are some ways that you can approach these tough choices that will result in achieving the best outcomes possible for your organization.
Prioritize Your Pain Points
When it feels as though the whole ship is sinking, it is hard to determine which hole to plug first. Asking the right questions will make all the difference in how effectively you are able to troubleshoot. For each pain point, ask:
What new challenges are we facing?
Why ‘doing what we’ve always done’ won’t solve old or pre-COVID-19 challenges in this new environment?
What quick pivots can we make using existing resources?
What will happen if we don’t solve these challenges?
What does the foreseeable future look like? How will we need to adapt?
The answers to these questions will help you take inventory and reveal a path forward. But that path will still undoubtedly involve making many difficult decisions along the way. While using data will help you make informed decisions, how will you know you are focused on the right measures—the ones that will have the greatest impact on the long-term success of your organization?
Focus on Outcomes to Increase Mission Impact
Organizations frequently measure outputs, which include the number of individuals served, how many classes completed, meals served, etc. While these numbers are important and necessary to track, what is even more important are the outcomes—the effectiveness of the services provided and what happened as a result of these actions.
Outcomes speak to the quality of the services delivered. What changed for these individuals as a result of your programs? Were they able to find full-time employment that improved their standard of living? Did their overall health improve? Simply put, outcomes demonstrate the impact your organization is making. After you’ve prioritized your pain points, making decisions with improved outcomes as your end game will help your organization focus on what matters most and increase your overall mission impact.
If you are struggling with how to approach measuring your organization’s outcomes and communicating your unique social impact, you are not alone. On May 21, Sheri Chaney Jones, president of SureImpact and Measurement Resources Company, led a webinar, Moving from Outputs to Outcomes to Increase Financial and Mission Impact. During this session, Sheri helped participants better understand the difference between outputs and outcomes in a social services context. Participants also learned how to establish an outcomes measurement strategy that links desired outcomes to outputs and activities. By learning how to measure your organization’s outcomes, you will be better positioned to track the organization’s overall performance, use that data to drive better decision-making, and strengthen how you demonstrate impact to funders and stakeholders.