To Define Meaningful Measurement Practices, Avoid These 7 Deadly Sins

May 1, 2019

People are demonstrating an ever-fiercer desire to see their contributions making a tangible impact on the causes they care about. To deliver on these expectations, nonprofits must start to form stronger connections across their organizations – across marketing channels, across teams and across the data points that gauge performance.

This means looking at success in a new light, with a focus on achieving a common language and understanding of what goals look like across different programs, tools and people.

When we talk about measurement, we’re talking about a new complex variety of metrics that can, and should, be tracked. We know what you’re thinking – achieving standards of measurement is easier said that done. That’s why we’re digging into these seven deadly sins that might be holding you back.

  1. Not defining measures that really matter

File growth, average gift.  Meals delivered, patients supported.  There are many standard metrics we all track.  But can you draw a straight line between a metric you are tracking and your organization’s goal?  Not just your fundraising goal or your program goal, but the bigger picture, why your organization exists goal – cure cancer, achieve equality?  If you can’t draw that line, you need to connect your key performance indicators to what you’re trying to achieve as an organization.  Doing this can also open the conversation around full funnel measurement and attribution needs in your organization.  For example, are you measuring how what you invest in brand understanding affects donor acquisition?

  1. Not setting up your technology infrastructure to capture the data you need

You have fundraising, CRM, reporting, and other tools with all the bells and whistles, but are those tools doing what you need them to do? Better yet, do you know where to start in order to answer that question? Like any other infrastructure, you should be looking at your technology with an outcomes-focused perspective. Put some definition around the measurement capabilities you’re looking to attain, and then ensure your technology is set up in a way that’s capturing those metrics, and also providing the answers in the way that you need them. If this is causing a red flag, remember a lot of times these challenges can be addressed by communicating to other teams – in this case, perhaps that’s your IT team.

  1. Not being the translator between your business need and the people and products you need to enable it

The people who you need to measure your efforts are not natives in your land.  For example, very few IT professionals know fundraising data, nor should they.  That means you have to help people connect the dots between what you need and what they do.  Do not put in “orders” with your partners.  This isn’t “I need a new donation form.”  It’s “We’re launching a paid media program.  I need to be able to measure which combination of media partners, audience targets and creative treatments combine to make us the most revenue.  Can you help me design a way to measure that, given our technology options?”  This also means you need to try to be minimally aware of your partners’ native language too.  You don’t need to be able to, for example, administer an enterprise database, but you need to recognize the complexity of it.       

  1. Not addressing attribution with the whole village

Channel integration is likely something your organization has been working towards for some time. What doesn’t help to achieve synergy and understanding across channels? Having siloed discussions about what touchpoint influenced what behavior. Or, continuing to view digital and direct mail as a “one versus the other” conversation. Too often, there is still internal contention about one channel getting credit for the conversion versus another, when in reality, constituents are influenced by a multitude of touchpoints and experiences with a brand – maybe a mail piece plus targeted Facebook campaign moved the needle together. It’s critical to agree, organizationally, about what attribution matters, and how you enable it.

  1. Not knowing your audience

Measurement doesn’t mean one thing and it doesn’t mean the same thing to every people.  When you’re dealing with multiple stakeholders that have varying areas of expertise (and their own set of priorities and metrics they’re held accountable for), knowing your audience is incredibly crucial to communicating performance in a meaningful way.  Metrics like Lifetime Value, or cost to raise a dollar, are not likely to resonate with a CMO as much as something like brand awareness metrics might – you have to put them in context together to tell the right story. Understand what KPIs are most relevant to the stakeholder you’re speaking with to ensure that everyone is on the same page about what success looks like.

  1. Not defining what you’re measuring the same way your neighbor is

When you say donor, does it mean the same thing as when your colleague says it?  Do you mean someone who made a gift in the last 12 months and she means someone who has given period?  When you say a constituent is engaged, do you mean he is clicking an email?  Does your colleague mean he’s attended an event?  Enterprise-level definitions of audiences and metrics are critical parts of getting your approach to measurement right.  Beyond defining, having a data governance approach documented for people to follow as your business evolves will help keep your metrics clean over time. 

  1. Not acknowledging when additional investment is needed

Measurement should tell you where to invest your time, energy and dollars to best move your mission forward.  If you can’t get clear metrics, sometimes the thing you need to invest in is measurement itself.  That could be in the form of technology or people or something else like developing an attribution model.  The right approach to measurement takes people, process and technology, so don’t budget for it as just a capital expense or a line of service in a vendor contract.  Also, annually evaluate the investment need as technologies change and the nonprofit sector’s skill sets evolve.   

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