People at organizations, both for-profit and non-profit, all work very hard with the best of intentions. So why do some organizations of similar size and resources working in similar areas seem to have great impact and others less so? There are many factors that can affect ultimate impact and certainly appearances of impact can vary based upon an organization’s skill in telling its story, but often what defines which teams actually make clear positive change in the world and which don’t are two things:
A clear understanding of the desired specific impact and the ability to measure it over time. You can’t know if you are being effective, and you can’t take steps to improve effectiveness if you do not know your actual effect. Even if your ultimate effect cannot be easily measured or attributed to your efforts specifically, there is always something measurable that can be identified that if reached, demonstrates you are actually moving the needle in the desired direction.
Setting clear goals based on your measurement of impact, and setting deadlines for when they will be met.
As an analogy for your programs, imagine that you’re on a journey. Why are you taking this trip at all and what’s the best vehicle to get there? That’s your vision and mission. Where do you want to end up and by when? These are your goals and dates by which you hope to achieve them. Even then, you can’t know how well your trip is going and if you need a better approach if you don’t have a way of measuring your speed and distance travelled (key performance indicators) and haven’t set interim milestones.
Here, therefore, is a recipe for success: Have a clear vision, a well-reasoned mission, measurements of actual outcomes attributable to your efforts to the best of your ability, measurable goals for those outcomes, dates for goals to be complete, interim milestones, and enforce accountability to all of the above.
1. What is your vision? This is the change that will happen in the world if you’re successful. It’s the state of the world you’re trying to bring into being. For example, “We envision a world where no animals suffer for the production of human food."
2. What is your mission? This is the method(s) your organization is using to move the world toward your mission. For example, “We work with companies involved in food production to facilitate their use of more ethically sourced animal products and to encourage the reduction of overall animal usage." Many organizations might share your vision, but are you filling a unique need with your mission?
3. What are your key performance indicators (KPIs)? These are the measurable outcomes of success. For example, how many fewer animals will be harmed due to a decrease in demand attributable to your efforts, or even, how many days of harm per living being have been eliminated? These metrics let you know how well you’re doing over time. You can’t know you’re being effective or modify your efforts to be more effective, if you have no way of measuring your actual effect.
Note: Not all effects are measurable. Perhaps an organization is working to create a better set of conditions for important changes to happen but those changes may take time and may not be easily attributable to the earlier foundational efforts. Or perhaps an organization is working to prevent a government from enacting bad policies, but it’s not easy to say for any given period of time how many bad policies were not enacted, or if the efforts of a particular organization among many working in the same area were the reason a change did or did not occur. Even so, there’s always something that can be identified as indicating that success is occurring and then used to indicate more or less progress. For example, how would you define “better conditions for change” or what activities lead to preventing bad policies and can you do more of that? What could you do more of next year that is measurable and that would signify progress? Consider if another organization or staff member were doing the exact same work, how would you know who is actually being more effective? That’s likely a thing to be measured.
Also, it’s very important to remember that an organization is likely having a positive effect even if the effect is not measured. But without that baseline metric, they can’t know how to improve their effect, how to budget resources for the maximum effect, etc.
It’s very important here, if possible, not to be measuring just your efforts (i.e. how many companies you work with, or brochures you give out, or things you have launched, or people who’ve engaged with your materials/website, etc.) but rather the actual outcomes. How many people have changed their behavior based on your efforts, or how many animals will not be killed due to the change in company policy, etc. Only where final outcomes can’t be measured should an organization take a step back to a precursor measurement, which can be a measurement of an effort (not an outcome) that is likely to lead to the desired final outcome. And if that precursor itself can’t be measured, then they can step even further back to a pre-precursor measurement, but the general rule is to measure things as close to the actual desired outcomes/impact as possible.
4. Set goals based upon key performance indicators. For example, “We will save 1 million animals by reducing demand for 1 million animals in the food system." Ideally goals should be a bit difficult but possible. Easy to achieve goals don’t drive amazing achievements, while impossible goals are meaningless and destroy morale.
5. Set a date by which the goal will be achieved. For example, “We will save 1 million animals by the end of five years." Having measurable goals with deadlines will also help in setting prioritization of work in the short term, and help create focus on what should be worked on and what shouldn’t. Many people (especially at non-profits) express a feeling of being overwhelmed. Lack of time is really a lack of prioritization, and having clear, measurable quarterly and annual goals can help alleviate that by focussing attention on what work is more likely to reach the stated goal.
6. Create milestones. For example, “In order to meet our goal on time, need to have 50,000 people reporting a 50% reduction of meat consumption by December 31.” Expected milestones will allow you to know in advance if you‘re on track or not, and help you decide on resource allocation. They also allow for interim wins that boost staff morale when milestones are met.
7. Have accountability. Some goals are missed for reasons outside of your control, especially if they were set high to inspire maximum effort. But there must be a system for checking in at regular intervals and measuring progress, and people must be held accountable for doing their best work as if it matters - because it does!
Following this recipe for success will greatly increase the effectiveness your organization has in the world. Keeping all this in mind, the process of creating a strategic plan can be very useful.
Special thanks to Better Faster Further