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Demonstrating Value: Expressing Your Organization's Success

Take control of your nonprofit’s data and communicate its value effectively

By: Demonstrating Value

April 2, 2012

Editor's Note: The following is an excerpt from Demonstrating Value Workbook. The full guide contains example, charts, and diagrams to help you use your data to communicate the performance of your organization. The Demonstrating Value methodology allows your organization to better collect, understand, and visually represent the data in your organization.

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The Demonstrating Value Workbook can help you determine what your data needs are, how they can be met, and how to design a "Performance Snapshot" that will provide an engaging summary of the performance and value of your organization.

The Demonstrating Value workbook (and all other Demonstrating Value tools) are based on the premise that the information you gather in your organization has to be directly relevant to the decisions you make and be compelling for others to learn about your value.

To decide which information is most useful, always keep the following simple question in mind:

“What do we want to know and show?”

In essence, think about the story you want to tell and the decisions that can be better supported by data.

The two lenses shown below can help focus the answer, and are reflected in the exercises in this excerpt. The first asks “What information is important?” and the second asks “How is information used?”.

  • An organizational sustainability perspective. What information can help you understand whether you are developing and maintaining resources to meet your purpose in the long run?
  • A mission perspective. What information can tell you about the ability of the organization to successfully contribute to the social, cultural, and environmental objectives set out in its mission?
  • A business performance perspective. What information can tell you about the success of the organization from a financial or business perspective?

It is also useful to consider carefully how information will be used, by considering three “audience” perspectives:

  • An operational perspective. What information do you need to support day-to-day decisions by management and staff? For instance, what can help you stay on top of costs, quality, and delivery of your mission?
  • A strategic perspective. What information do you need to support strategic decisions that are often made by a governance body such as a board? This information needs to educate your audience about key trends and events that have occurred.
  • An accountability perspective. What information do you need to foster and maintain support of the organization? This includes support by investors, community members, employees, and beneficiaries of your mission. This audience may have very limited knowledge of who you are and what you are trying to accomplish, so your story needs to be crisp.

Step 1: Define Your Audiences and Their Needs

Your organization is important for many different groups of people, and in different ways. These are your stakeholders. Understanding who these people are and what they care about is critical for developing effective monitoring and reporting capabilities.

In this step you will name the people and groups who care about your organization (your stakeholders), the information they need, and what you'd like to improve.

Common stakeholders include:

  • Employees
  • Volunteers
  • Management
  • A governance body (for example, a board of directors)
  • A parent organization (for example, in the case of a social enterprise that is affiliated with a larger nonprofit organization or fiscal sponsor)
  • Constituent group – those in whose name you are working
  • Customers
  • Investors, funders, and donors
  • Peers and partners
  • The community at large

Step 2: Develop a Vision of Your Performance Snapshot

A performance snapshot is a communication tool that you can develop to present the performance and value of your organization to boards, investors or funders, and staff. It is tailored to your needs and the audiences you want to connect with.

The snapshot can be a printed document or an electronic “dashboard” that allows you to actively engage with the information. This tool will give you a clear picture of your organization to help you plan and manage your day-to-day activities, demonstrate your value to others, and ensure the long-term sustainability of your organization. Examples of performance snapshots can be found here:

Advantages of developing a snapshot include:

  • Saving valuable time finding and pulling together data and other information for reports
  • Seeing key trends and relationships in data, so you can get the most from the data you collect
  • Combining different types of information effectively to engage your audience

The exact content and format of the snapshot depends on the audience you want to reach and the issues that are important. The design process includes thinking about who the audience is, what decisions they are making, the messages you want to convey, and the information that can be presented (numeric, narrative, pictures, quotes, video) to tell your story.

This depends on your needs and audience. For example, the layout and content for a bi-monthly board presentation might be very different from a snapshot designed to be part of your public website to engage volunteers and donors.

Step 3: Map Out Your Information Needs

In this step you will develop "information maps" that show what information and data are useful to collect based on your organization's mission and objectives.

An information map is basically a picture of the information that is most useful to you in managing, planning, and communicating the value of your organization. The mapping starts with the big picture, by asking you why your organization exists and the goals you are working towards.

You will then map out what you are doing to achieve these goals, and your desired impact. The final stage is to decide what data you may currently be tracking or could track in the future to evaluate and express the success of these goals.

Information mapping is the key tool for developing the content of your performance snapshot. Map out what information you need to know and show in your organization based on the goals you're pursuing. Develop information maps using the following three steps:

  • Write down your organization's key goals. Base this on:
    • Information in your strategic plans, business plans, grant applications, and in marketing and other communications materials
    • Examples of goals we've provided
  • Describe the activities you're doing to achieve these goals and what your desired impact is.
  • Determine what information you should be collecting to show that you are successful. Start by brainstorming around the question “What do you want to know and show about this goal?”. Then write down specific indicators you'd include in your snapshot that would address what you want to know and show. Don't limit yourself to data and other information that you can provide right now, but describe what you'd ideally like.

Step 4: Design Your Snapshot

In the previous step, you identified the information that is important for you to collect and potentially show in a snapshot, based on your organization's goals. You will now design your snapshot with the information that you collect currently, or can easily develop.

You may want to do this directly in the program you are using (Microsoft Word or Excel, or a reporting software like SAP's Crystal Dashboard Design), or sketch out content ideas first. Design it only with the indicators that are currently available or that you can develop easily. If you don't have the data right away, enter placeholders and adjust it later.

For each section, think carefully about what you want to convey. Beware of presenting data for the sake of presenting data. Rather, group and relate information to make it meaningful. This means thinking about:

  • Decisions that the snapshot's audience will be making
  • Clear messages you want to convey about your value

It can be helpful to review your information maps to remind yourself of how the indicators relate to activities, objectives, and impact.

You can use figures, numbers, text, stories, and even multimedia like videos and photo to convey your message. Present it so that it can provide maximum insights to your audience. For instance, data and figures can be more powerful if you also provide some text to help your audience interpret them.

Step 5: Define Additional Data Development

The snapshot that you've now developed is something that you can add to over time as your organization grows. In this step, plan out how you can develop additional indicators that you identified in your information maps for your snapshot. Also determine how frequently you want to add data and re-evaluate your organization’s value over time.

Additional Resources

Editor’s Note: The following additional resources can help you get started with demonstrating your organization’s value through data.

About the Author:

Demonstrating Value is an initiative led by Vancity Community Foundation to enhance the capacity of community-based organizations to strategically plan, manage, and communicate the value of their work, and in particular the measurement of social and environmental impact. They assist nonprofits, social enterprises, and community investors to ask the right questions about their work, and to develop systems to track and communicate their value.