Research & Reports

3 Impact Metrics Nonprofits Aren’t Using (But Really Should)

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These days, whether you’re talking to major funders, converting small donors, or designing a strategic plan, impact metrics are the gold standard of non-profit data. But for many nonprofits, these important metrics go unmeasured and unused, putting critical programming, fundraising, and growth out of reach. 

This doesn’t mean you need to go out and collect every metric possible. Instead, we suggest focusing your efforts on collecting and analyzing a core set of impact data, including

  • Cost Per Successful Outcome
  • Constituent Retention
  • Fundraising Return on Investment

However, any single metric does not an impact measurement make. When measuring for comprehensive impact, never rely on one single metric. Instead, select a variety of indicators that offer a range of perspectives and insights. According to SureImpact’s Impact Story Toolkit, taken together, these should answer the following questions:

  • “What was done?”
  • “How well was it done?”
  • “How are participants better off?”

As a result, you’ll be able to better communicate to supporters about your nonprofit’s successes and needs, make improved decisions for your organization, and, ultimately, grow your impact. 

Cost Per Successful Outcome

Many nonprofits measure the cost of services delivered, but this can seem like an overwhelming number for funders and doesn’t demonstrate how participants are better off as a result of your programming. Cost per successful outcome is a better indicator for measuring the impact of your services and programs and gets funders excited about where their money is going. 

In order to calculate cost per successful outcome, take how much it costs to run your programs, add in your administrative costs, and divide by the number of successful participants in your program. For example, if your program and administrative costs equal $1,000,000, and you have 732 successful participants, it costs you $1,366 to get one participant to a successful outcome. With this understanding, donors, funders, and other stakeholders can visualize the direct impact you’re making on your community and how their investment will make a difference. 

Constituent Retention

Constituent retention can be a versatile metric for measuring everything from the impact of your fundraising to the impact of your programming—and how your constituents are receiving these services and outreach. Depending on your impact assessment strategy, you can focus on a particular category of constituents, such as:

  • Donors
  • Clients
  • Volunteers
  • Staff
  • Partners

For the sake of your analysis, you may choose to further break these categories down into smaller subgroups. For example, when assessing your donor retention, it can be helpful to distinguish between small donors and major gift donors. 

Once segmented, you can use the resulting retention data alongside qualitative information about your audience preferences and needs to inform future communications and engagement efforts and better retain your various constituent demographics. 

Fundraising Return on Investment

While you’re likely already collecting data on dollars raised through your fundraising programs, a range of other metrics, such as the number of donors and total funds raised, can help paint a more comprehensive picture of the impact of your fundraising. Fundraising return on investment (ROI) puts these individual fundraising data points in conversation with one another.

Generally speaking, your fundraising ROI measures the amount of money you raised against the amount you invested in your fundraising initiatives. Ideally, you want your return rate to significantly outpace your investment. 

As with constituent retention above, you can break your ROI analysis into subgroups to look at the impact and efficacy of different programs. For example, while a social media fundraiser may have a low initial cost, you might also find that it also brings in much less than your annual gala. Additionally, spending time with your ROI metrics can help you identify places where you can improve your fundraising. For example, according to Double the Donation’s matching gift statistics, “an estimated $4 – $7 billion in matching gift funds goes unclaimed per year.” Are you using a corporate matching gifts program to collect this additional support?


Ultimately, the results of these three impact metrics are only as accurate as your raw data. If your raw data is incomplete, disorganized, or outdated, your results are likely misrepresenting your true impact. Instead, we recommend establishing a process for routinely collecting and interpreting accurate data, practicing routine data hygiene, and sharing information with partners in a continuous feedback loop to maintain the most up-to-date and accurate information. Good luck!

a woman smiling - Sheri Chaney JonesFor more than 20 years, Sheri Chaney Jones has applied performance management, evaluation, and organization behavior best practices to non-profit organizations and government agencies to improve outcomes and efficiencies. An author, professor, and internationally recognized expert, Sheri believes in data, metrics, and accountability.

Sheri’s foray into entrepreneurship began with Measurement Resources Company in 2010. Now a national firm, Measurement Resources increases the capacity of non-profit and government sector organizations through high-performance practices and data-driven insights. In 2018, Sheri launched SureImpact to automate and simplify the process of collecting and sharing outcomes and impact data.

Sheri is a thought leader on public sector evaluation and applied organizational research. She is the author of Impact & Excellence: Data-Driven Strategies for Aligning Mission, Culture, and Performance in Nonprofit and Government Organizations (Jossey Bass, 2014).

Sheri is passionate about women’s equity and the advancement of girls. She is the Columbus Chapter President of the National Association of Women Business Owners and a Commissioner for the Columbus Women’s Commission for the Mayor’s Office.

Sheri holds a Master of Arts degree in Industrial and Organizational Psychology from Central Michigan University and a Bachelor of Science in Psychology from The Ohio State University. Sheri, her husband Matt and their four children live in Columbus, Ohio.


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