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DIY Engagement Benchmarking Survey Section 6: Accomplishment Tracking

Resources for tracking programmatic accomplishments.

When we begin an engagement strategy project with a new client, we start by asking about their vision. What does the world look like if you are completely successful in your work? How will you know when you win?

These are tough questions. Most of the nonprofits we work with have big missions—stopping global warming, protecting our clean air and water, conserving huge swaths of land, changing people's relationships with the environment. In the best of cases, achieving that mission is a long-term goal that will take years of hard work. And often, the idea of winning feels so distant and intangible that it's difficult to even imagine.

So how do you know if you're heading in the right direction? How do you know if the work you're doing right now is getting you closer to achieving your mission?

You can start by documenting your theory of change, setting goals, tracking your accomplishments, and reviewing results. Then repeat.


Tracking the data you need to measure your accomplishments will cost you resources, but not tracking it costs you even more. Solid data about your work can help you:

  • Understand which of your programs are having the most impact, identify places to improve, and set goals to motivate staff and guide your planning
  • Test the assumptions implicit in your theory of change—is what you're doing working?
  • Tell your story to donors, potential donors, and volunteers

Measuring the right things

How do you decide what to measure? Start with your theory of change. A theory of change is a logic model that defines how you believe your organization will have an impact on the world. We start by defining a vision, and work backward from there to connect that vision to the organization's work on the ground.

This is a powerful tool. It gets everyone in the organization on the same page around their work, which has value in itself. But your theory of change should also define the metrics that would indicate how successful you are, where you're improving, and where you need help. Every element in your theory of change has quantitative or qualitative data that can serve as an indicator of your success.

A theory of change is exactly what it says—a theory—and you should review and revise it periodically. If you find that you are nailing your goals and still not having an impact, it's time to revisit your assumptions.

In an ideal world, you could effortlessly track and report on all of the data related to your theory of change. In reality, that data is going to come from a variety of different sources, from your CRM and email platform to Google Analytics and Facebook Insights. Pulling it together into a meaningful report is going to take time, so it makes sense to prioritize the data that will tell you most about the impact on your work.

The more integrated your systems are, the easier this will be. We work with our clients to make sure as much organizational data as possible is tracked in their Salesforce CRM, and that they have reports and dashboards to surface the most important information. But even if your data is spread between multiple systems, it's still worth the time to pull it together.

Six tips to start tracking your accomplishments

  1. Don't try to measure too much. Sit down with your coworkers and decide on a set of metrics to start tracking. Focus on mission critical data that's actionable—i.e., data you can use to set goals and guide decisions around your key programs.
  2. Make it understandable. Wrangle your data into a readable format, like a spreadsheet, and put it somewhere everyone can see it. Google Docs can be great for this. Invest some time into making it visually compelling with charts and colors.
  3. Establish and stick to a schedule. Most of this data is only valuable once you collect enough of it to see trends and correlations. Someone on staff needs to be responsible for assembling a report weekly, or at least monthly.
  4. Put your data to work. Information in a spreadsheet doesn't do anything. Review your data monthly during a staff meeting, and make it part of any campaign planning. And if you want people to listen, use the data to tell a story. Don't expect your colleagues to see the same thing you do in a spreadsheet filled with numbers.
  5. Don't be a data perfectionist. The things that are most worth measuring are often the hardest to measure, and there's a point of diminishing returns on trying to measure them with perfect accuracy. Choose the best metrics you can gather and stick to your schedule.
  6. Apples to apples. Raw numbers are not very valuable—what's valuable is how your measurements change over time. If you keep changing the things that you measure or how you measure them, you'll never have the data you need to improve.
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