How Great Organizations Know They’re Great

Impact is the measure of how effectively youre carrying out your mission.

By Judith Samuels, PhD

The new tax law, if implemented as expected, reduces the financial incentive of tax deductions for many who contribute to worthy causes. This means that philanthropies and nonprofits of all types will need to make a stronger, more effective case that they are great and deserving of contributions.

How successful is your organization? It’s not just about having stellar financials. For charities, philanthropies and nonprofit service organizations, the only thing that really matters is IMPACT. It’s not just about growing participation in your programs. Or launching new programs. Or extending your reach. Impact is the extent to which you are ensuring a thriving Jewish community, how you improve the quality of life for those represented by your mission.

Simply put, impact is the measure of how effectively you’re carrying out your mission. There’s no single way to measure impact, but it should be a clear reflection of progress toward meeting your mission. Great organizations have a systematic process for applying impact measures to everything they do. Every grant, every program, every service.

But undertaking impact measurement can be a daunting task.

And your organization likely has many questions like these:

  • How can we ensure that the organizational culture will support measuring our work?
  • How much will this cost? Is there a cost benefit?
  • How do we start: should we hire in-house staff or outside consultants?
  • Does the field have proven methods for measuring the results of our work and how can I find out about them?

The key to answering the first question is understanding that culture change is an incredibly difficult leadership challenge. There’s considerable academic scholarship on successful organizational culture change, and many methods and processes have been tested. What’s common to many of these is a combination of top-down and bottom-up approaches. Senior management and Board leadership are personally involved in learning and using the language of the new culture. Staff at ALL levels are included in training and dissemination strategies, and asked to use new language and techniques in their work. But most important, patience is required. Culture change takes time. You will know culture change has taken hold when the conversations at all levels change from “what should we do?” to “what is the goal?” and “how can we measure that change?”

Every organization is different; thus, the costs to implement an impact-measurement strategy will differ. If in-house resources are not available to help determine these costs, outside consultants can be engaged to assess the level of investment required to start up or revamp measurement systems. Solid evaluation processes and methods often require an investment in the right systems for data collection and analysis. These investments are as essential in the nonprofit world as they are in the private sector. Consultants are also a valuable resource for elucidating specific benefits that help maximize your impact. Such benefits often include improving the organization’s decision-making processes and increasing the effectiveness of planning.

For the third question, often the best answer is a combination of both: in-house and outside resources. While in-house staff may have the best view of your organization’s roadmap and potential mission impact, outside evaluation and research experts bring a level of rigor few organizations can tap from their full-time staff. Many organizations use consultants and experts to help set up processes and systems, leaving trained staff in place.

The final question is simpler to answer in some fields than others. The health and social-services fields have a plethora of standardized and well-tested measures for their work. However, the Jewish communal sector has a dearth of standardized and/or well-tested measures that reflect changes in Jewish identity, Jewish community, or an individual’s lifelong commitment to Israel. While much work needs to be done in this area, well-constructed proxy measures, determined with expert advice, may suffice as the field matures.

And remember, measuring impact is how great organizations are able to maximize impact.

Judith Samuels, PhD, is CEO of The Samuels Group. She previously served as Managing Director of the Impact and Performance Assessment Department, UJA-Federation of NY. Judith can be reached at: