How do we know the work of our nonprofit is making a difference?

It’s a question that nonprofit executives have been contemplating since the creation of the 501(c)3 tax code.

And we should know if we are making a difference. And we should share that information with all our audiences—donors, constituents, staff, board. And we should adjust our work if the results are not moving in the appropriate direction.

It may appear to be a daunting task at first, looking to see if our programs are having the results planned. It’s scary, too.

Stay motivated by thinking about what can happen when you show your funders, donors, board members, staff and the community how the work you do is making a positive difference. Think about opportunities you create when you can show how effective you can be as an organization with clear expectations (goals) and ways to show progress (data related to your goals).

Results-Based Accountability

A few years ago, I discovered a great resource for using data to drive results. Results-Based Accountability (RBA) is a method of tracking data to determine success. The process can be applied to nearly everything.  It can be used to set goals for your organization and for the programs you implement.

Once you start looking at your work through the lens of RBA, it will become clearer and clearer.  A great place to start your journey into results-based accountability is the RBA website. Here’s a link:  This one website has a wealth of resources available regarding the use of data to drive results.

My favorite thing about RBA is that it uses plain language, not the usual jargon of evaluators and others in the nonprofit sector. This makes it easier to engage with the people important to your organization. With RBA, your community, your board, your staff and others are better able to determine if your results are those anticipated. Here’s a link to a great summary of RBA to share when you introduce RBA to your staff, board and others.

Why Results Matter

Why, you might ask. Why should we measure our results? Resources are shrinking. Funding sources, donors and nonprofits are being pulled in many directions and it is necessary for nonprofits to be able to show what they are doing is bringing about positive accomplishments. Indeed, it is often demanded of them.

Here’s an article from the Balance Small Business that addresses reasons why we should measure our outcomes.

Businesses in the for-profit sector typically have a built-in evaluation system: Is the business bringing in more revenue that it is spending? Profits are the bottom line for for-profit businesses.

It’s different for businesses in the nonprofit sector. There’s no easy, common and clear-cut way to assess and share the results of our work. We do know it’s not our bottom line, though!

Read more about differences between for-profit and nonprofit businesses and using outcomes to measure success from the Nonprofit Quarterly.