I’m delivering a webinar for the Knight Digital Media Center next week, and I wrote this blog post introducing it. It was originally published by KDMC.
If you sell shoes for a living, you have a clear metric for success: How are my sales, and are they enough to keep me in business? When you do or fund mission-driven work, the metrics are much less obvious, but it’s still natural to crave them. If you think your work is making a difference, it’s important on many levels to have evidence that you’re right.
But when your primary goal is not something concrete like dollars made or products created, how do you know if what you’re doing is “working?”
One good plan of action is to define what “working” means to you, find some metrics you can attach to those, then commit to the time it will take to track those metrics.
As a preview, let’s look at each of those three steps individually.
1. Set goals.The important first step is defining what you hope will happen as the result of your work. If this is hard for you, roll around in it for awhile and get comfortable, because you can’t move on unless you get really specific here. Do you hope people will get more involved with your organization? Take action on an issue? Attend an event? Or how about this one: Learn? Often, one core goal is raising awareness. Think about those days you leave work feeling really satisfied. What has likely happened? What drives you and your organization? What is success?
2. Find metrics.Once you have a short list of your key points of success, you can find concrete ways to address them. We need to move beyond phrases like “it seems to be going great” or “people have really embraced it.” More specificity is required. If you’re selling shoes, you don’t get away with saying “we seem to have sold lots of shoes today.” You need to know exactly how many pairs of shoes you sold for what prices, and how that compares to yesterday, to last week and to this same day last year. You also need to know how much was spent on advertising and how much is being spent on payroll.
Clearly, metrics for civic engagement work are not as clear cut, but they’re out there. How many people took you up on the invitation to sign up for your email newsletter (and how many didn’t)? How many people attended an event, and how does that compare to the resources spent on publicity and invitations? How many people say they know more about an issue than they did before their involvement with you? How many plan to get more involved in the cause, and is that number growing over time?
3. Invest in measurement. When the shoe salesman locks the door at the end of the night, he sticks around to make sure his cash drawer is reconciled, and he logs his sales figures. It’s part of the job. While it’s tempting to close up shop after an event, a campaign or a series of blog posts, we have to realize that we can’t answer the question of whether those things “worked” without making their measurement part of our jobs. It’s party of the job to count and log attendance, readership, email signups and community knowledge. We need to do that for all public-facing work that matters to us, and we need to compare it over time so we can tell if we’re improving.
Webinar July 22, 11 am PT / 2 pm ET: Civic Engagement: Motivating and Measuring Community Knowledge and Action. This free KDMC webinar will examine how to put these concepts into action. Mission-driven organizations (including foundations and nonprofits) will learn how to define and track their metrics for success.