Understanding Impact Metrics for Your Nonprofit: A Guide

Maximize nonprofit impact with our comprehensive guide on impact metrics.

November 15, 2022

Whether your nonprofit is working to improve volunteer management or the success of your community outreach programs, you’re likely considering the impact of your planned or existing actions.

According to SureImpact’s Primer on Nonprofit Impact Measurement, impact is “the quantifiable difference an organization makes … the collective effects (intended and unintended) of a nonprofit’s work on the communities it serves.” In this sense, impact metrics are the specific measures of the positive and negative effects of an intervention, action, or project on individuals, communities, or the environment.

In this guide, we’ll answer the most frequently asked questions about nonprofit impact metrics, including:

  • Why Are Impact Metrics Important?
  • How Do You Choose Impact Metrics for Your Nonprofit?
  • What Are Common Nonprofit Impact Metrics?
  • How Do You Use Impact Metrics?

When chosen properly, impact metrics can accurately evaluate everything from individual program effectiveness to an organization’s overall performance. With this in mind, let’s begin by discussing the value of thoughtful nonprofit impact metrics.

Why Are Impact Metrics Important?

Impact metrics play a crucial role in defining your nonprofit’s impact story and demonstrating your value to your donors, funders, volunteers, board members, and other key stakeholders. Impact metrics are vital to:

  • Identify program gaps and areas of need within your organization.
  • Improve marketing and fundraising efforts and earn buy-in from donors.
  • Evaluate and improve the effectiveness of programs and services.
  • Set goals and track progress over time.
  • Plan for the future and make decisions about resource allocation.

Because impact metrics are so critical to your organization’s success, it’s essential to choose them carefully. In the next section, we’ll explain how to pick the best impact metrics for your organization.

How Do You Choose Impact Metrics for Your Nonprofit?

To choose impact metrics, you first need to define your goals. For example, do you want to increase participant knowledge or improve their economic conditions? Do you want to recruit more volunteers or recurring donors?

Once you know what you want to achieve, you can begin to narrow down the potential metrics according to the following criteria:

  • Is it relevant? Your impact metrics should be relevant to the intervention, action, or project being evaluated, as well as your organization’s broader mission and goals.
  • Is it useful? Your impact metrics should be useful for a specific purpose, such as making decisions or engaging your stakeholders.
  • Is it timely? You should be able to collect data for your impact metric in a timely manner and on a regular basis.
  • Is it cost-effective? Collecting data can be time-consuming and expensive. Make sure you have the staff and budget to support your chosen metrics.

Additionally, plan to involve your key stakeholders in the process of choosing your nonprofit’s impact metrics. Your board, staff, clients, and community will have unique insights into the metrics you choose. Getting input from a variety of perspectives will help you choose metrics that are relevant and useful for everyone involved.

What Are Common Nonprofit Impact Metrics?

While the best metrics for your organization will depend on your specific mission, goals, and programs, there are some common impact metrics used by nonprofits in their regular assessment practices, including:

  • Number of participants
  • Participant satisfaction
  • Participant retention
  • Participant engagement
  • Participant demographics
  • Program attendance
  • Program completion
  • Services delivered
  • Cost of services
  • Volunteer satisfaction
  • Volunteer retention
  • Volunteer hours
  • Fundraising ROI
  • Average gift size

Each of these metrics falls under one of three categories that together make up your nonprofit’s impact:

  • Output metrics assess the intermediate results of an intervention, action, or project. For example, an output metric for a literacy program might be the number of books read by program participants.
  • Quality metrics assess how well you performed an action. For example, a quality metric for a literacy program might be the number and length of activities.
  • Outcome metrics assess the effects of an action. For example, if your nonprofit's goal was to increase literacy rates in its community, an outcome metric might be the percentage of program participants who improved their reading skills.

In general, when measuring any kind of impact, plan to choose multiple relevant metrics. Not only does this offer a more comprehensive view of a given impact, but it also minimizes the possibility for misinterpretation or error.

How Do You Use Impact Metrics?

Once you’ve selected the right metrics for your organization, it’s time to put them to use. For the best results, start with these three recommendations:

1. Collect Data Regularly

Data collection should be a frequent, ongoing process. Set a schedule for collecting data that aligns with your predetermined metrics. Doing so will help you track progress, quickly respond to changes, and identify trends over time.

For comprehensive results, consider collecting data through a range of approaches, such as:

  • Interviews
  • Surveys
  • Assessments
  • Observations
  • Third-party providers

To keep this data organized, use a software solution that goes above tracking constituents—opt for a tool that helps you easily track, measure and report outcomes and impact.

2. Communicate Results Across Multiple Channels

Once you have collected your data, it’s important to communicate the results to relevant stakeholders. Even if you present data in a way that’s clear, concise, and easy to understand, if you’re not sharing it on the right platforms, it’s likely not reaching your target audiences.

Thus, plan to share your impact data across both digital spaces, such as your website and social media accounts, as well as physical ones, such as conferences and events. By taking this approach, you ensure your supporters are up to date on the impact your organization is making.

3. Be Prepared to Adjust

Finally, be prepared to adjust your impact metrics over time. As your organization grows and changes, your metrics should evolve to meet your needs and goals. We recommend scheduling a regular review period in your annual calendar to reflect on your plans and update your impact metrics accordingly.

Impact metrics can be powerful tools for nonprofits. To make the most of your metrics, consider an all-in-one impact measurement solution that can help you streamline your collection process, standardize your impact metrics, and share your impact with partners and funders in real-time. Good luck!

written by: Sheri Chaney Jones at SureImpact


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