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How does a non-profit measure its effectiveness?

For-profit organizations can look at standard financial metrics: revenues, profits, return on equity, and so forth. But for most non-profit organizations, financial metrics are a means to an end, not the end itself. Non-profits need to pay attention to financial metrics to pay the bills; but it usually isn’t why they exist.

Nonprofit Metrics: Reach and Impact

Two of the key measures I’ve used when evaluating non-profits are their reach and their impact (or depth).

For example, the Boys & Girls Clubs of America (BGCA) serves approximately 4.2 million kids. They do this at more than 4,000 Clubs around the United States, including 390 Clubs situated at every single US military base in the world. Yes, there is even a Boys & Girls Club of Guantanamo Bay–and they do great work! BGCA accomplishes this with a little over 250,000 employees and volunteers.

To put this in perspective: BGCA serves more kids than the top 12 public school districts in the US, combined. More than New York City, Los Angeles, Chicago, and the next nine.

So the reach is large. But what about the Impact, or Depth?

The Clubs are typically built near schools, and in other high-traffic areas (for kids). Kids come to the Clubs after school, many of them staying for hours, every day. The staff and volunteers provide them with a structured environment emphasizing fun, safety, and values (including schoolwork). So while some kids may only come to the Clubs a few times a year, many come every day, effectively growing up in the Clubs.

In a 2007 Harris Poll of Club Alumni, we found:

  • Kids had been members of their Club for an average of 5.2 years
  • Kids had spent an average of 4 days per week at their Club

What is the result?

  • 72% of African American and Hispanic alumni said that their Club involvement made them more committed to their educations.
  • 28% of Alumni stated that their Club kept them from dropping out of high school.
  • 57% of the respondents stated that Club involvement literally saved their lives (by getting them off the streets, out of gangs, and so forth).
Bottom Line

For the Boys & Girls Clubs of America, the reach and impact are huge. That’s not surprising for one of the oldest, and most-respected non-profits in the world.

How you measure Reach and Impact will vary from one non-profit to another. Their missions are different, and so are their markets. And reach and impact can be difficult to measure. But I believe these are the two key metrics that any non-profit needs to determine how effective they are at meeting their mission.