Measures for Organizational Success: Setting Operational Standards for Jewish Nonprofits

successBy Steven Windmueller, Ph.D.

How does your organization “stack up?” In exploring the best practices of American business, we have extracted and adopted ten standards by which Jewish organizations might “measure” their success. Increasingly, we note that donors want to see defined outcomes and measurable indicators of institutional performance.

This framework of analysis is based on a study of some 15 Jewish institutions; this research effort parallels the work of the Jim Joseph Foundation on determining “information, metrics and tools to both measure and achieve high performance.”[1] In an age when institutions must demonstrate levels of proficiency and produce a heightened record of organizational performance, such evaluation standards ought to benefit the nonprofit sector. What then ought to be the key “performance indicators?” Jewish communal and religious institutions may want to adopt a selected set of operational measures to assess their performance record.

Research and Development: Our research has shown that strikingly few Jewish nonprofit organizations devote any significant resources, for example, to analyze trends, evaluate their operational services, or examine cost-effectiveness. Internal R&D functions are rarely reported on by nonprofits, as evidenced from this report.

Investment and Innovation: As with R&D, the data suggests that few Jewish institutions set aside adequate funds in order to upgrade equipment, promote in-house staff training or foster lay leadership education. The infusion of new capital extends as well to an exploration of new delivery systems of services and programs. In what ways are organizations reinventing their image or redefine their mission? While new “products” are often not within the framework for the nonprofit sector, an examination of service-delivery systems would represent an appropriate area of assessment.

Cost-Benefit Analysis: How cost effective is an organization’s performance? How might institutions measure their operational effectiveness, employing specific evaluative tools to examine institutional productivity, donor cultivation, the public relations function, and other “customer services.”

Social Media: How successful are nonprofits in employing social media? What resources are being directed toward using the virtual culture to promote messages and “sell” engagement? While most of the Jewish organizations within our study employed social media, few introduced mechanisms for evaluating its impact or in advancing plans to “grow” their market coverage.

Assets and Liabilities: Specific business indices, as for example, how much is owed to one’s creditors, amounts due from debtors, and the value of goodwill earned to date may be useful evaluators of economic health. Often organizations provide this data in their business and accounting reports but rarely did we find that any of these groups devote significant staff or board attention to monitoring such numbers.

Cash Flow: Assessing operations, financial and investing activities by an on-going examination of income and expenses represents an essential element in determining fiscal sustainability. Comparing present and past financial performance standards provides a framework to examine if budgets and forecasts are in alignment. Few organizations within our review devoted attention to maintaining a system of cash reserves or contingency funds as part of their business planning.

Competitive Analysis: “How is an organization doing in relationship to its competitors?” is a question asked regularly in business circles but almost never addressed within the third sector. Yet, little attention was given by the groups within our study to an assessment of “competitive advantage;” in fact, in many cases, such institutions could not identify parallel organizations that they might analyze for such purposes.

Market Share: Few organizations devote resources to “measure” their market position or to access their potential for expanding operations. Such an analysis can readily improve an institution’s demographic position in reaching potential donors, growing its membership, enlarging its client base, etc.

Consumer Satisfaction: Among the cohort institutions under review, little attention was given to examining “customer satisfaction” with the mission and program resources of these Jewish groups. What is the perception of the organization and its services by donors, members, clients and the broader public?

Mergers/Collaboration: How might an agency grow its position within the marketplace? This may at times depend on its leadership’s vision. Has the organization considered a merger option or the possibilities of pursuing collaborative arrangements with other institutions designed to best provide needed or unmet services? Within in our review such conversations were reported only when organizations were seen as being “in trouble.”

Creating Context: How to Employ Operational Indicators:

While ten measures are introduced above as examples of different modes for evaluating organizations, it is important not to become overwhelmed with tracking too many indicators. Many business experts suggest that small businesses (organizations) select possibly two but no more than three markers to determine or evaluate operational success. In setting up any assessment, break down institutional goals into defined, specific and achievable measures. The results need to be compared with the goals laid out at the outset, making certain to create realistic markers.

In the end this is about internal accountability and institutional credibility. Increasingly, Jewish organizations will be required to demonstrate their effectiveness in delivering their services and in promoting their programs.

[1] See:

Dr. Steven Windmueller is the Rabbi Alfred Gottschalk Emeritus Professor of Jewish Communal Studies at the Jack H. Skirball Campus of the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in Los Angeles. For more of his writings visiy,