data collection

Why you want your nonprofit to fail

posted by
Chloe Silva,

Program Coordinator
ASU Lodestar Center

In a society fundamentally rooted in capitalism, how can nonprofits argue their worth when their work cannot be translated into a monetary sum?

Increasingly, nonprofit organizations are looking for new ways to measure (and thereby validate) the importance of their work. Our organizations have been measuring outputs in one way or another for as long as there has been philanthropy. This is not without good reason. We measure to ensure that our practices are effective, and to demonstrate that to any number of stakeholders, from the donors who fund us to the constituencies we serve.

Manyhave focusedon uncovering new ways of gathering this data and new metrics for analyzing it. Now the discussion is shifting to moving beyond outputs (e.g. number of people served) to impacts (e.g. what difference it made in those people’s lives and the community as a whole). Social impact models seek to move beyond basic performance measures to better understand and illustrate what has been accomplished and, more importantly, what it meant. When faced with shorter attention spans and more critical oversight in today’s fundraising landscape, having numbers that speak to the value of your organization can give you an important edge.

But what happens to all this meticulously compiled data after the marketing materials have hit the printer and the results have been uploaded to the website? While more robust marketing and fundraising plans may seem like the most beneficial uses for social impact data, we should be using this information to inform ourselves as much as others. These studies have great potential for identifying areas for growth within our work, but inviting such feedback does not come easily. However, without allowing the space for reflection and critique we run the risk of stifling innovation. Creativity requires risk, and can often end in failure. So there is that dirty word, failure. We cringe when we hear it. Despite this, some cutting edge organizations and nonprofit professionals are responding with creative ways to accept and even embrace failure.