RIT Professor Helps Track How Metrics Measure Nonprofit Success

Eugene Fram and Jerry Talley offer recommendations in ‘Leader to Leader Journal’ article

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The strategic plan is done. The objectives are clear. The time frame is set. The Board has done its work—until someone utters the word metrics.

So how do nonprofit organizations measure their impact on the community and assess outcomes for their critical goals?

“Nonprofit boards can easily degenerate into monitoring easily counted staff activities and mistake efforts for outcomes,” says Eugene Fram, professor emeritus in the E. Philip Saunders College of Business at Rochester Institute of Technology. “That danger is much greater than the danger of using imperfect metrics.”

Together with leadership consultant Jerry Talley, Fram co-authored “Using Imperfect Metrics Well: Tracking Progress and Driving Change”—recently published in the winter issue of Leader to Leader Journal. They argue that building the relationship between a board and the senior management group in conducting the assessment process is as important as choosing the assessment tools—and offer the following step-by-step challenges to achieve assessment success and guidelines for relationship development during the process.

The Assessment Process:

  • Agree on relevant outcomes: Metrics should reflect organizational outcomes or impact, not activities or efforts
  • Agree on measurement approaches—both quantitative and qualitative
  • Agree on specific indicators: Develop the behavioral outcomes desired
  • Agree on judgment rules: Board and management need to agree at the outset upon the metric numbers the organization would like to achieve
  • Compare measurement outcomes with judgment rules: Determine how many relevant outcomes were achieved to assess whether or not a major strategic objective has been achieved

Guidelines for the Relationship Development:

  • Link an imperfect metric to a good process: Even an excellent metric will be caustic if applied by people who have little communication or trust in each other
  • Let experience drive improvement of the metric: Don’t spend months debating over the subtleties of measurements
  • Attend as much to the development of relationships as to the technical act of assessment: Over time imperfect measurements will improve, but the relationships of those measuring and those being measured also improve

Media note: Eugene Fram is available for interviews and can be reached in his home office at 650-209-5724, via cell phone at 585-732-6817 or via e-mail to eugenefram@yahoo.com.