Posts Tagged ‘nonprofit evaluation’

Sage measurement advice from Jim Collins

Posted by Gayle Gifford on June 11, 2010 in Effectiveness

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I was just flipping through my dog-eared edition of “Good to Great and the Social Sectors,” the 2005 monograph by Jim Collins, when I came across this advice:

It doesn’t matter whether you can quantify your results. What matters is that you rigorously assemble evidence — qualitative or quantitative — to track your progress. If the evidence is primarily qualitative, think like a trial lawyer assembling the combined body of evidence. If the evidence is primarily quantitative, then think of yourself as a laboratory scientist assembling and assessing the data.”

Collins goes on to say that being hard isn’t  an excuse for not attempting to measure performance. “All indicators are flawed,” he reminds us.

But, prescient of the charity raters, Collins reminds us that it is important to be curious to learn for its own sake, in pursuit of the greatness to which we aspire. (For me, greatness means really taking on social challenges – making the world the best it can be – whatever your cause.)


Measuring impact like the Gates

Posted by Gayle Gifford on April 27, 2010 in Effectiveness

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Thank you to self-described philanthropy wonk Lucy Bernholz of Philanthropy Blog 2173 for alerting us to the resource “A Guide to Actionable Measurement” put out by Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. I’m preparing materials for two workshops on why measuring societal impact is important and this couldn’t have been dropped in my lap at a better time.

Just yesterday, I was discussing the framework for one of those sessions with a board member who will be at this retreat and has been thinking carefully about this topic. The retreat I’m preparing is designed to help program staff and board members learn to love evaluation — okay, maybe not love yet, but appreciate the importance of.

We both agreed that the conversation about measurement needs to shift away from evaluation, which conveys judging, to learning, which is about a desire to get better at what you do for the sake of the people or community you serve.

So let me say I was cheering when I read the  three principles that The Gates Foundation says guide its approach to measurement:

  1. “Measurement should inform specific decisions and/or actions.
  2. “We do not measure everything, but we do strive to measure what matters most.
  3. “The data we gather help us learn and adapt our initiatives and strategies.”


Their formula for actionable measurement is just brilliant in my book:

“Planned collection, analysis and synthesis of data + time devoted to development of reflection and insight + willingness and ability to change = Informed Decisions & Actions”

With the growing drumbeat to rate and rank nonprofit outcomes, it is refreshing to hear such an important funder talk about reflection, insight, adaptation, learning.  I’m also impressed that this foundation that has more money than any of my clients could ever dream of makes a point that they are judicious about what they measure as they can’t (and shouldn’t) try to measure everything. Read More >>