Industry Outlook: Nonprofits

September 9, 2013

So those are the three areas that we’re not very good at. We understand our outcomes, but we need to take it to a more sophisticated level.

CHIAO: I just want to make two points about measuring impact. One is that all too often we’re measuring impact on the back end to report back out to donors or to policy makers. But one of the things we’re trying to do now is measure impact to understand how we need to augment our programming right now in a rapid-time way—because in a year from now, if we miss a whole cohort of third graders who weren’t reading on grade level, it’s too late. So we need to know right now which kids are slipping through the cracks and need additional interventions. So pre-framing how we measure impact and why we’re measuring the impact is really important.

The second piece is that, in speaking about the desire for nonprofits to collaborate more effectively, we need to think about how we go from measuring program outcomes—which are very critical to understanding whether we’re having an impact on individuals—to coalescing all of those program outcomes from various nonprofit organizations into a community-level outcome. What’s the impact on the entire community, not just on these sets of individuals who are part of the program?

HAVEN: We collect a lot of data on child wellbeing. We’ve been doing the Kids Count project for over 20 years. So for example, if we institute a policy of graduated driver’s licenses for teenage drivers or seat belt usage for young kids, we can look at what the data says over time about it. Is our child death rate going down? Is our teen driving rate going down? Providing those kinds of extremely accurate, accessible data to policy makers is really important, especially for an advocacy organization.     

What are other obstacles you experience?

BRAY: In a recent survey of Utah nonprofits, 84 percent of them said that they want to have better measurements for their program effectiveness. That is one of the hardest things to get funded for nonprofits. The University of Utah quoted us either $50,000 or $150,000, depending on what department I was talking to.

It’s not an easy thing, but since this is our focus, and this is Utah Business magazine, and these are the companies that we’re talking to, that’s a really good takeaway from them—that when you’re looking at granting funds, when you’re sitting on those decision-making review panels, does the nonprofit have a mechanism to provide outcome measurements, and what is the cost of that? And if they don’t have it, why not? Are they willing to help with that?

Each one of our taxonomy nonprofit sectors have different things that they need to measure, and so it’s not an easy fix. I wish we could just take United Way’s data collection and spread it across the board, but that works for cradle-to-career and the things that they’re tracking. It doesn’t track environmental, it doesn’t track diversity issues, it doesn’t track arts and science and health.

We’ve got to be smart about this, and we can’t get smart about it until we have good infrastructure that pays for it and enables us to collect that information, because every nonprofit I have talked to wants to do this. They just don’t have the capacity.

HAVEN: When we’re dealing with the business community, it’s really important to make them understand that nonprofit does not mean nonprofessional. There’s that kind of feeling there—that because we work in the nonprofit sector, we’re somehow less competent, that we couldn’t make it in the business world. But nonprofit does not mean nonprofessional.

Societal norms don’t let us compete in the same way that businesses compete. We’re not allowed to pay our people good salaries because we get criticized for that. We’re not allowed to think innovatively and or use money to make money because we get criticized for that. So it’s really important for us to really start having a presence in the business community to say we run a business. Just like you, we run a business. We have to pay our bills, we have to meet our salaries, we have to address our funders.

BJORKLAND: As a frontline provider of care for kids, especially the more expensive kind of care, it’s really hard measuring changes, and you have to get professionals involved. Back in 2001 we made a shift to become more entrepreneurial, and it changed the way we’ve done business. So we have a Ph.D. researcher on our staff, and we actually do a lot of research on each of our programs, not only about the long-term impact on kids—and we’re one of just a few charities in the nation who’s actually looking at the longitudinal effect on the kids we’re working with, because it’s so dang expensive.

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