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Guest Post: Sheri Chaney Jones of Measurement Resources

It’s No Longer a Luxury: The Relationship between Evaluation and Sustainability



“That is what every arts organization needs, but can’t afford.”

This was said to me by an arts administrator when describing that my organization helps nonprofits measure and communicate their impact and value. She is not alone. Many nonprofit leaders incorrectly perceive program evaluation and data-driven decision making as a luxury they cannot afford. 

My new acquaintance is correct that every arts organization needs to be engaged in program and outcome measurement.  Organizations that systematically use and collect outcome data are significantly more likely to report increases in positive press, funding, efficiency, staff morale, and organizational change. 

The arts administrator was also correct that a perception exists among art leaders that they cannot afford measurement activities. This perception prevents organizations from engaging in these critical tools. Research outlined in Impact & Excellence reveals that only 27% of nonprofits are fully embracing a high performance measurement culture. Lack of funding and resources are often cited as the main obstacles. 

There is good news. This perception is a myth! No correlation exists between organizations successfully using data to demonstrate effectiveness and a nonprofit’s budget and size. In other words, organizations of all sizes are finding ways to embrace evaluation in their practices and as a result increase their sustainability. 

Performance and outcome measurement is no longer a luxury. Demonstrating impact is becoming increasingly more important as funders shift towards outcomes-based funding. Nonprofits excelling because of their data-driven practices go beyond using performance measures and outcomes data as an external reporting tool. They have the right measures, organizational structures, and leadership in place to systematically use these data to manage programs, make improvements, and demonstrate their unique impact and value. 

Greatness starts with the commitment of an organization’s leader to move from having data to achieving excellence with data. Here are three distinct features that separate the “great” from the “good enough.”

  1. Defining Success:

    Great organizations measure success based on the distinct impact they are making and the effectiveness of their services delivered relative to their resources. In addition to measuring participants served, money raised, and activities performed, they measure outcomes -- the extent their programs and services have changed lives and circumstances for their participants, stakeholders, and communities.
  1. Leadership:

    Great arts leaders never take their eyes off the mission. They lead with humility and passion for the mission and do whatever it takes (ethically) to fully realize this mission. They align their measures with this mission. Great leaders use these measures to make course corrections when results are less desirable. Data are also used to celebrate success when desired targets are met.
  1. Culture:

    Great organizations consistently strive for a high-performance culture with a foundation built on performance and outcome measures. They do this by hiring and retaining the right people for their organizations. They understand that talent can compensate for lack of resources, but money never compensates for lack of the right people. To keep the right people, they create systems based on data, learning, feedback, and autonomy. These elements encourage, motivate, and reward their high-achieving, positive, self-motivated team members. They avoid the “doing more with less” syndrome by seeking the right people and creating the right data-driven systems that naturally produce more with less.


The great arts organizations of the future will let go of the excuse that performance and outcome measurement are “too expensive.” Instead they ask, "How can we achieve our desired impact and excellence?" Measurement is an essential tool that helps arts organizations achieve greatness regardless of their size and budget. 

The first step towards excellence is to create and use success measures. Once this commitment is made, organizations find the resources needed to successfully engage in the activities. Those who are successful know that performance measurement is achievable, can fit within their budget, can be done with their own staff, and will lead to positive results! 

Sheri Chaney Jones, President of Measurement Resources Company and author of Impact & Excellence: Data-driven strategies for aligning mission, culture, and performance, improves arts and culture organizations through the use of measurement, evaluation, and organizational development. For more measurement tips visit measurementresourcesco.com to download the first two chapters of Impact and Excellence for free!  


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