The only way to determine how effectual your nonprofit’s efforts are is to look at how true you are to the fulfillment of your mission.
How do you gauge success in your small business or nonprofit? That’s a broad question, because the factors which contribute to success are incredibly specific and unique to each organization. Even two similar entities in pursuit of seemingly common goals will find that they’re each on a different trajectory. Beyond all of their shared aspects, their paths will inevitably diverge due to a myriad of differences between them in the realms of leadership, staff, longevity, and geographical location, among others. The takeaway from this comparison-contrast exercise is that your organization is completely unlike any other, as distinctive and inimitable as a fingerprint, and so must be the parameters by how you measure success.
If you run a small business that happens to be retail-oriented, the measuring stick you’re likely to use is one based entirely on sales revenue. Ending your fiscal year “in the black” is certainly a laudable goal and a good indication that you’re succeeding at a transactional level. But what if your small business is more client-oriented, where you’re developing a professional relationship with the people you serve? That’s where things tend to get a bit muddy. You can’t simply reduce the analysis of your success to a tracking of units sold, and even tabulating totals based on the fees charged for your services can fall short of properly telling you the level of impact you have on your clients.
The nonprofit realm can be even more complicated to analyze. If your organization provides services free of charge, the concept of “success” becomes all the more intangible. Ultimately, the only way to determine how effectual your nonprofit’s efforts are is to look at how true you are to the fulfillment of your mission. If someone came to you for assistance, did they get it? If so, how specifically did you assist? And if not, what were the factors that prevented them from receiving the services they were in search of?
The concepts of outcome tracking and trend analysis have been discussed in this blog before, but the topic bears repeating in the context of examining your success, whether you’re a small business or a nonprofit. Although there are many advantages to using some version of Customer Relationship Management (CRM) software to track all of your client interactions, the associated expense and learning curve might not make sense for your organization. A CRM gives you tremendous flexibility when it comes to reporting and data analysis, but you can still create comprehensive outcome tracking if the only tool you have at your disposal is Microsoft Excel.
By having a separate spreadsheet entry for each one of the clients you serve during your fiscal year, you can provide columns to address every single aspect of your service structure. To really get the most out of the data you’re capturing, it pays to ask yourself a few key questions about what will be the most beneficial information when it comes to analyzing your organizational performance. Beyond the client-specific data itself – name, address, phone number, email address, and so on – consider which pieces of demographic data might be helpful when it comes to identifying categories for the recipients of your services.
From the nonprofit perspective, this can be a crucial component in justifying how funding from grants was spent, particularly if there were specific stipulations in regard to the disbursement of funds. Think of any identifiers that can help you to draw conclusions about the groups you’re serving. Do you have programs geared toward assisting veterans? Are single mothers with children on your organizational radar as a key target population to focus your efforts on? Being able to reflect items such as these can also illuminate scenarios where there is a crossover of services being provided within your nonprofit. Did someone who would normally be identified as the logical recipient of a particular service end up receiving assistance from an unrelated program?
These identifiers can provide worthwhile feedback on their own, but they’re especially effective when they’re used in conjunction with outcome tracking. The basic formula is simple: someone came to your organization for help and you either helped them or you didn’t. This is one key area of your tracking where you can’t be vague – go into as much detail as is practicable to illustrate how your services played out. It isn’t really helpful to simply indicate that you did or didn’t help. If you did help, provide a separate column in which to identify each type of service the client received. If you weren’t able to provide the services the client sought, provide columns to adequately address each possible factor that prevented the assistance from being given.
Although this structure is especially useful for nonprofits, small businesses can benefit as well. Due to the volume of sales it processes and the potentially quick turnaround time that might be associated with each transaction, this approach may not make sense for a retail-oriented business. This is primarily due to the fact that it might not be practical to capture significant data elements in the midst of making a sale. But small businesses that are more geared toward a client relationship than a customer one can benefit tremendously from capturing identifiers that address who sought their services and which services they received.
In an Excel spreadsheet, a simple way to facilitate data analysis is by inputting a ‘1’ in the appropriate column to identify every item that applies to each client. Then, by inserting a filter at the top of each column, you can quickly and easily sort to display only those clients for which a ‘1’ was entered. This can be very useful to get a quick capsule summary of outcomes or group identifiers, but your reporting can be greatly enhanced through the use of a pivot table. By creating a table that is tied to whichever specific columns you select, you can now have an automatically tabulating record providing you with the sum for each column. By simply refreshing the data whenever you choose, you’ll always have the most current statistics of what your organization is doing. Watch ValorExcel's how-to video HERE.
This can benefit both the small business and the nonprofit, but the reporting you glean will apply differently depending on the nature of your organization. The small business can observe trends that can help to identify the popularity of goods or services as they pertain to a particular demographic of clients. This can help to indicate how successful marketing and promotional efforts are, and can also be a catalyst to develop (or even discontinue) products or services. The nonprofit can use this type of reporting to apprise the Board of Directors as to the efficacy of the organization, and analyzing operational data in this manner can also show grant funders or donors how operating funds are fueling the mission. Writing a grant narrative in pursuit of a new funding stream will also benefit tremendously from this kind of detailed reporting.
One of the most helpful aspects of outcome tracking through the use of a pivot table is that it’s extremely easy to extrapolate the associated data into histograms or pie charts. A visual representation of what your organization is doing will always be more attractive to outside eyes than a mere collection of facts and figures. This also can facilitate analysis within your organization, which is incredibly streamlined by this approach. Now, without waiting until the end of the fiscal year, anyone with access to the reporting spreadsheet can derive a valid capsule summary of your organizational performance whenever it’s required.
The modest amount of time and effort required to set up income tracking will more than pay for itself in providing your organization with the ability to see where you stand at a moment’s notice. Reporting through this kind of approach isn’t simply some dry collection of static data – it’s instead a dynamic and contemporary glimpse at how well you’re aligning with your mission and how close you’re coming to the goals that determine the success of your organization.
ValorExcel has the expertise to measure outcomes inexpensively. We would love to help you develop an effective reporting mechanism that benefits your organization. Contact us at 240-329-9387 or visit www.valorexcel.com/businessservices to find a complete list of the the services we offer. Do you want to get a deeper perspective on the overall health of your small business or nonprofit. If so, take your organization's temperate at www.valorexcel.com/takeyourtemp. In the meantime, make sure you check our recent videos on YouTube by clicking HERE. Each episode is designed to inspire, empower, and transform you and/or your organization.