Performance Measurement: No More Excuses

April 26, 2012

Nonprofit organizations often come up with lots of excuses for not evaluating their work. You and I have heard them all (and probably used a few of them ourselves): “We don’t have the budget for evaluation.” “We can’t measure that.”  “I know in my heart we’re doing good work.”

This spring the Urban Institute and partners launched a new resource that could help nonprofits set those excuses aside. Their new online service called PerformWell shares performance management tools to help human service organizations track and deliver more effective programs.

Elizabeth Boris, director of the Center on Nonprofits and Philanthropy at The Urban Institute, previewed the beta site last week in Minnesota. This free portal, she said, was not created to help nonprofits meet reporting requirements for governments or foundations; it is designed to give nonprofits accessible, valid tools for evidence-based measurement of their work.

So throw out your notions about monitoring and oversight. Instead, think about PerformWell as a resource to build nonprofit capacity and effectiveness. It provides practical knowledge — what to measure and how to measure it — that human service professionals can use to manage their day-to-day performance.

Boris said they hope PerformWell will become more than a free source of evaluation tools.  They envision PerformWell as a catalyst for more conversation and collaboration around the topic of evaluation, with peer learning communities emerging to advance social programs.

The research-based findings on the site are carefully vetted, synthesized and simplified, so they are accessible to nonprofits of all sizes and capacities. The ever-growing site content includes model surveys and assessments in 119 outcome categories (school readiness, workforce competence, etc.) and 89 program areas (mentoring, out-of-school time programs, etc.).

The Urban Institute and its partners, Child Trends and Social Solutions, are seeking feedback on the beta site. Check it out and recommend additional content to build out this new resource. Or learn more about the vision for the project by viewing the launch webinar.

Boris referred to ongoing performance management as the “neglected step” of our everyday work in the nonprofit sector. If PerformWell takes off, there will be no more excuses for not measuring performance — and for not designing programs that deliver the best possible outcomes.

— Wendy Wehr, MCF v.p. of communications and information services