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Panel: Nonprofits Must Focus on Social Impact, Metrics

By Bisk on April 12, 2013

In order to survive and prosper, nonprofit organizations must find ways to accurately measure and communicate their successes, both financial and mission-based, two leaders in the nonprofit arena told an audience at the University of Notre Dame.

Notre Dame alumni Angela Smith Cobb and Daniel Morrison participated in a panel discussion titled “Measuring and Getting Results in Nonprofits,” which was part of the university’s Making a Living Making a Difference series, held annually at the Mendoza College of Business.

Nonprofit executives often overlook financial metrics, at least initially, because they’re more concerned with the mission of their organization, the panelists said. But quantifying mission-based and financial accomplishments are equally paramount.

“Probably like a typical entrepreneur, I didn’t care about measurement and impact when I started,” said Morrison, the founder and chief executive officer of Citizen Effect, an online fundraising platform. “You sell everything on passion.”

But prospective investors want business plans and models, and successfully courting these backers is essential for accomplishing the mission. Even though Citizen Effect has positively influenced thousands of lives, it has struggled because it has emphasized its mission at the expense of the business side, Morrison said.

He said one way Citizen Effect is gauging its success is by how many imitators it is attracting. The presence of copycats shows outside organizations and potential investors that Citizen Effect is working and that there is room for growth in the area.

“We want to be a virus, have people steal the idea from us, replicate it,” Morrison said, according to a Feb. 6 article on the Mendoza College website.

Smith Cobb, the director of the New Options Project, said that measuring success based strictly on how many people an organization serves is a mistake. Potential investors don’t necessarily want to hear a list of numbers, which means nonprofit leaders should look for compelling stories that illustrate their organization’s triumphs.

“It’s part of painting a holistic picture. … What are the stories that give life to the issue that you care about?” Smith Cobb said.

The New Options Project, which is funded through the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, helps out-of-school job seekers ages 16 to 24 to find meaningful careers. For her organization, success occurs when a job seeker is on the pathway to advancement, Smith Cobb said.

“When we get the pressure to forget about the human side, we have to really rebel and kind of preach the gospel of heart and head,” Smith Cobb told the audience of local nonprofit leaders.