Counting

Last year, we engaged in a strategic planning process at our organization.  As the strategic planning committee focused on strategies to meet community needs, we had a discussion about how we should measure our progress towards our goals. We discussed measuring the number of families served, the amount of dollars raised and the number of volunteer hours, among other things.

During the discussion, one of the committee members quoted Albert Einstein and said “Not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted.”  Agreeing with this comment, and needing a reminder of that myself, I wrote it down on the flip chart.  After the meeting, I taped it to the back of my office door… and every time I close my door, I am reminded of the concept.

Tonight, I had the opportunity to attend a dinner where Clive Rainey was the keynote speaker.  Clive has been a volunteer with Habitat for Humanity since its founding, and served over 30 years on staff with Habitat International.  He shared stories he witnessed of families who’s lives were touched by Habitat.

He, too, spoke of the fact that “Not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted.”  Clive reminded us to think of the lives that have been transformed from living in Habitat homes.  Yes, Habitat for Humanity can count the number of homes built (which is now over 500,000), but there is much more than that… there are lives changed in ways that you can’t put a number on.

How can you put a number on the fact that because a child had a stable home to live in, he was the first in his family to graduate from college? Or the story of a young boy who volunteered on a Habitat house and now is pursing his college degree in construction management? Or the health benefits for the family that is no longer living in a mold infested home? They are so much more than merely a number that can be counted.

So yes, as you strive to quantify the success of a nonprofit organization, it is important to establish metrics and use evaluation tools to gauge the impact of the organization.  This week, I completed our organization’s quarterly dashboard on the progress towards the goals of our strategic plan; it is filed with stats and numbers on our progress.  By tracking these measurable items, our organization is able to track our progress towards fulfilling our goals.

But let us not forget that the work we do is so much greater than just the numbers. Yes, our organization can count many ways that we are making a difference, but that only starts to tell the story of the impact we are making… we must also remember the stories that go beyond the numbers.

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About Dr. Sarah Wolin Mackey

Putting theory into practice at nonprofit organizations.
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3 Responses to Counting

  1. Sarah,

    The whole issue of metrics is messy. The Enistein quote is a great one to consider. Also, I think there is a tendency in organizations to measure what is easy rather than what is hard, which also might lead some to aim at the wrong target, so to speak.

    On my Treasury Cafe blog I once wrote a post called “Benchmarking for Mediocrity” which relates to the metrics topic – the link is below if you are interested. Thanks!

    http://treasurycafe.blogspot.com/2011/09/benchmarking-for-mediocrity.html

  2. David –
    Thanks for the post and the link to your blog. “Messy Metrics” sounds like a great future post. 🙂 And yes, I agree, just because it is easy to measure doesn’t mean it is what should be measured.
    Thanks again for your insights!
    Sarah

  3. Pingback: Passion for Work | Sarah W Mackey

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