Nonprofit Organizations

The Trouble with Easy Measurement

March 1, 2013

Thinking Big—and Evaluating Along the Way

Folks at the Atlantic Philanthropies are actively seeking ways to communicate the lessons they’ve picked up (sometimes the hard way) over the years about the work of philanthropy.  In a recent public letter, President and CEO Christopher Oechsli devotes a section to “what they’re learning”—from Atlantic’s support of a national dementia strategy in Ireland to the effectiveness of a media campaign to increase children’s awareness of diversity.  Funders, check out their “creating a movement” report, which describes some takeaways on when and how to change funding strategy (psssst…it’s on page 43).

Beware of Easy Measurement

In a compelling blog post, Steven Mayer discusses the “corrupting power of numbers.”  There’s nothing inherently wrong with a preference for numbers; but as Mayer points out, we (including evaluators, funders, and nonprofit leaders) sometimes forget that numbers are “only proxies for the real thing.”  Here at APEP, we’re quite fond of words because they’re often more helpful than quantitative strategies in evaluating the complex ecosystems typical of advocacy initiatives.  Mayer calls on us to scrutinize numbers just as scrupulously as we do words.  Yep, we second that.      

Organizational Learning

Evaluations shouldn’t just be shiny reports posted on your website for everyone to see.  Rather, a good evaluation sparks a series of internal conversations about ways to translate the findings into new or updated practices for greater social impact.  So we were thrilled to see The Bridgespan Group tackle organizational learning in an article for the Nonprofit Quarterly. They underscore the potential role of technology in facilitating processes for knowledge creation and information sharing, without leaving those personal interactions behind.  Chatting to one another—in person—still works…who’da thunk it?