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Learning What Matters to Nonprofits

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Learning What Matters to NonprofitsNext month, I’ll be at the Mission Capital conference to discuss “Measuring What Matters: How Funders and Nonprofits Are Leveraging Data.” Of course, before you can measure what matters, you have to know what matters. The good news is that we can often agree about “what matters” in the lives of the individuals, families, and communities we serve. When we talk about “measuring” what matters, however, we find out very quickly that the devil is in the details. Precision and accuracy are needed to lend credibility to measuring the success of our efforts.

Our new initiative, GuideStar Platinum, is beginning to gather revealing information about “what matters” and “what’s measured” by individual nonprofit organizations. Platinum is the top of our four nonprofit participation levels. Organizations reach it by adding performance metrics to their profiles.

Early Lessons from GuideStar Platinum

We launched GuideStar Platinum on May 11, 2016. Since then, more than 750 organizations have published metrics in their profiles. Here’s what we’ve learned so far.

Platinum Demographics

  • Nonprofits from every state (and Puerto Rico) have updated to Platinum.
    California has the most Platinum organizations, followed by Texas and New York State. These states also have the most nonprofits, in the same order.
  • Nonprofits from every mission category are participating in Platinum.
    Human services organizations are most heavily represented at 33 percent. But Platinum organizations represent all categories—even “Unknown.”
  • Although nonprofits of every size have reached Platinum, mid-size to larger organizations predominate.
    Some 57 percent have incomes between $100,000 and $4.9 million. Nearly half—48 percent—have assets in this range.

Most Common Metrics

Nonprofits can either select metrics from our Common Results Catalog or upload their own. Some 72 percent of the metrics published so far are from the catalog. In descending order, the top 10 are:

  • Number of volunteers
  • Number of clients served
  • Number of overall donors
  • Total dollar amount of grants awarded
  • Total number of grants awarded
  • Number of animal adoptions
  • Average number of service recipients per month
  • Number of students enrolled
  • Number of clients participating in educational programs
  • Number of animals rescued

The top themes of the custom metrics are:

  • Domestic animal services
  • Meals/hunger
  • Monetary + volunteer support received
  • Human services

Language, Outputs, and Outcomes

GuideStar Platinum has been available for less than 90 days, so these are preliminary findings. It will be interesting to see if/how they change over time. We do believe that Platinum is already building a common language for nonprofit measurement. Right now, that results language includes both outputs—the direct products and services delivered as a result of a nonprofit’s activities—and outcomes—the changes for beneficiaries that nonprofits are effecting. We contend that measuring outputs is an important first step toward measuring outcomes. As more nonprofits add metrics to their profiles, we'll continue to share what we learn.

A portion of this post was originally published in the Power of Good blog.

adrian_bordone.jpegAdrian Bordone is vice president, strategic partnerships, for GuideStar. Before joining GuideStar, Adrian co-founded Social Solutions, establishing the sector as a marketplace committed to using data to generate intelligence that improved results for individuals, families, and communities. He thanks Jasmine Marrow and Whitney Brooks for their analysis of Platinum’s first weeks.

Topics: Events GuideStar Platinum