Does Your Nonprofit Organization Have Measurement Malaise? | Beth’s Blog

Does Your Nonprofit Organization Have Measurement Malaise?


Flickr photo by Allain Bachellier

Malaise  is a feeling of general discomfort or uneasiness, of being “out of sorts.”   Lately, I’ve been hearing about  “measurement malaise” infecting nonprofits and not just social media measurement.   Maybe it is the feeling that measurement requires data collection and that will cause even more information overload  and why we put the task on the organizational back burner.

Can you be an effective grassroots nonprofit organization in 21st century without a robust integrated social media and mobile strategy and measurement strategy?   Idealware looked into this question about nonprofits and Facebook as well as other questions in  its recent research study,  Using Facebook to Meet Your Mission: Results of a Survey, available for free download with registration and discussed at free webinar on June 16 at 1 PM PST..   The survey looked at nonprofit’s self-reported results, goals, time investment, and measurement approaches for Facebook, although  I wonder if you can really answer the big picture question without looking at how nonprofits use Facebook in the context of an integrated strategy and good measurement practice benchmarking study.

Idealware Study

The Idealware survey asked participants if they measure results from Facebook.   Their categories were based on whether or not the respondent was using a specific measurement tool like Facebook Insights or Google Analytics.  Respondents that names tools were labled as “substantial.’   However it is hard to know whether or not if someone simply mentions the name of a tool  whether or not they are using it appropriately to measure their results.    The telling statistic is here is that 47% are not doing any measurement!     More than half (53 percent) of survey respondents indicated measurement of some kind, while just 26 percent reported a “substantial” measurement plan.   Of those respondents who reported a substantial measurement plan, almost 40 percent also reported some kind of tangible positive outcome of using Facebook, compared to less than 25 percent of those who were not measuring at all.  

The survey also reports that over 60 percent of respondents who reported “substantial measurement” were still not seeing a positive impact from Facebook.     This has more to do with their specific strategy and measurement practice rather than their use of the measurement tools.   As measurement guru KD Paine says,  you need the right measurement tool for the job – identify SMART objectives, pick metrics, and then your tool.

It made me curious about what keeps nonprofits from measuring  integrated social media campaigns and why measurement often gets pushed to the backburner.  Here’s a summary a responses from my Facebook Page.

1.  Doing or Creating is More Fun Than Measurement:  People are more likely to build instead of measure even if they are building on a fault line.  Creating is more appealing then  analysis to most.   How can create a culture of fun around measurement so that we can’t keep ourselves from doing it from the beginning of a project. 

2.  Measurement Analytics Paralysis:    There so much out there – from infographics to factoids to market research studies  to endless tools we could use to measure our social media that we’ve become junkies of consuming analytics data for the sake of consuming analytics and playing with analytics tools.    The line between where the data analysis stops and the real work begins gets blurry.    Do we stop and ask if it is useful?  Do we try to get data in small, digestible bytes and reflect on what it means?    Maybe it is more fun to get lost in the lastest chart and graph we can generate in our social media analytics tool, but  how can we harness our addiction to data to create more insight?    One solution is to set aside a small block of time to think about the data, maybe a “Metrics Monday” as my colleagues at Momsrising do.  We  all need to be curators of our analytics data.

3.    Fear:  What We Might Learn:   What if we discover that our campaign didn’t get the results we thought it would or even worse, that our precious time was wasted.   Many nonprofit social media mavens are proud of their work, may be challanged to find things that truly capture the impact.    Are we afraid that measurement will provide data for someone in our organization to say “social media is waste of time.”   Or maybe we just don’t want to learn from failure and are not prepared to give something a joyful funeral or tweak it for success.   Learning from failure is like compost – while it might stink at first, it gets valuable over time.   It is also important to also learn from our successes in the event they happened by accident. 

4.    Rational Expections for Outcomes:     It is more than setting SMART objectives  which takes some focus.  You have to put a flag in the sand and articulate what your outcome will be, whether grand or modest. You also have step away from your overloaded to do list and clarify.   I’m also reminded of a quote from Michelangelo, “The greatest danger for most of us is not that our aim is too high and we miss it but that it is too low and we reach it.”        SMART objectives and a measurement plan are not a report card!   They are guide posts for improvement.

5.  Picking the Right Metrics:      Understanding the right metrics to use to measure your results, without defaulting to “measure everything” because more data is better or getting distracted by bogus and meaningless metrics.   Here’s where I think the AMEC  Valid Metrics Grids  will be very useful.   And, we have to be comfortable to just saying now and understand that we can measure to our capacity!    Why not think about scaffolding what you measure?   Strategically add metrics to your dashboard  — sort of like trainng for marathon.   Less is more. 

6.    Balance of Reflection and Action:     Taking the time to clarify what you’re measuring might kill the excitement of experimentation and doing it – and that initial learning.    But you can only dabble for so long – and to get to real results, you need a game plan for measuring.        The problem is using measurement planning as an excuse not to experiment and learn with social media or mobile or as Jessica Dailey says, “If you are spending more time quantifying your relationships then you’re spending nurturing your relationships you’re doing it wrong in both life and social media.”   There is the fun wild experimentation phase, but as practice matures you need a measurement strategy.

7.   Measurement Is Expensive and Exhausting:    The notion that the only valid measurement is done by highly trained specialists  or that for the data to be valid it takes a lot of data collection and time – that many nonprofits simply don’t have.     IF done in-house, staff view it as more work and the results of measuring  is only as good as the input and if there’s no input, or sparse input it won’t tell us anything.    

Does your organization have measurement malaise?  What does it look like?  More importantly, what’s the cure?

18 Responses

  1. Great post, Beth. I think you’re right on all the reasons that organizations don’t measure their results. I think the cure is coming up with concrete, specific and inexpensive measurement tools that can be easily and quickly applied and analyzed. Any suggestions?

  2. Beth says:

    I don’t think it is a matter of tools – tools alone won’t do it. I think it is a matter of coming up with simple processes and systems for measurement that includes free and inexpensive tools

  3. […] Does Your Nonprofit Organization Have Measurement Malaise?. […]

  4. Tierney says:

    I don’t think this is a complete answer by any means, but in my opinion it helps to start small. For example when I first started using Twitter I would manually record how many tweets I sent of different types (my content, other’s content, replies to people) and what was the response to each. There were lots of things I wasn’t measuring, but it helped me to get in the habit of observing and measuring how successful I was. As I’ve progressed in my use of Twitter I’ve explored different ways of measuring how I’m doing, though I still think I have a ways to go in this area.

    One of the big downsides of this approach is that you don’t have good benchmarking data if you decide to measure a different metric later on. Plus I clearly didn’t set any goals or have much of a thought-out strategy at all 🙂

  5. Beth says:

    Thanks Tierney for the suggestion.

    How can we make measurement fun?

  6. Geri Stengel says:

    Measurement is a big task; the options are endless and often overwhelming. The best solution, I think, is to break it down into small, easy-to-achieve steps. Choose one precise, concise goal, maybe something as simple as site visits. Choose one tool with which to measure that goal.Then choose another question to ask the analytics tool. When you feel you’ve mastered that, ask another or measure another goal. Every journey begins with a single step.

  7. Beth says:

    Geri: Great advice! Thanks for that.

    How to make measurement sexy?
    “Statistics are like a bikini. What they reveal is interesting. But what they hide is vital.”

  8. Jono Smith says:

    It’s a little bit like asking “How can we make going to the dentist fun?” The only one way to make measurement fun is to hire people who love measurement. For example, look at how HubSpot messages it on their careers page:

    “At HubSpot, we dream in graphs and our native tongue is Spreadsheet Speak. Our data might be the most metrically driven data you’ve seen. That’s right, we are metrics freaks. We measure EVERYTHING, all the time. If you are not part of the Spreadsheet Appreciation Society, you will not have a good time working at HubSpot. The right candidate will understand perfectly what we mean and will smile upon reading this bullet point.”

  9. Beth says:

    Hey Jono,

    May we need to give people watermelon flavored tooth paste!

  10. […] Idealware survey, referenced in nonprofit social media guru Beth Kanter’s June 15, 2011 blog post, asked nonprofits about their measurement of Facebook responses. Interestingly enough, 47% of […]

  11. […] – Social giving has more than doubled in the last 5 years. An Idealware survey showed that 47% of nonprofits using social media for their marketing do no measurement at all. […]

  12. […] good news is that you’re not alone. Most nonprofits (and in fact most for-profits) are struggling with the challenge of measuring relationships, which […]

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