October 07, 2014

A Simple Tool to Show How You Are Measuring Progress

I’ve recently written blog posts regarding the importance of outcomes measurement and offering some advice on how to approach the measurement process. For organizations that have embraced outcomes measurement, the next step is to develop a framework for tracking progress and demonstrating impact.

To do this, you’ll need a simple format that you can either use internally or to present to grant makers, donors, and others interested in your organization. It should showcase the way you measure what you are doing to achieve your outcomes.

One useful tool for this purpose is the Success Equation (which I first introduced in my book Benchmarking for Nonprofits). This is valuable both for communicating what you do and for helping your organization clarify its thinking and its work related to outcomes.

The Success Equation is designed to answer questions about what your organization is trying to accomplish, what changes are needed to achieve your ultimate impact, how you will measure progress toward that impact, and which strategies will contribute to those outcomes.



The equation is simple: A, B, and C are the intermediate outcomes--those that are most influential in driving performance toward your goal. And D is what you are ultimately trying to achieve.  If the A, B, or C outcome is taken away, your likelihood of success with D goes down substantially.

While some organizations may produce a long list of outcomes, the Success Equation demands a focus on those that are most important.

It also takes a more logical approach to measurement than many organizations do. Too often, nonprofits think first about strategies or programs and then try to measure what they achieve. The point is not just to “account for” or track what you’re already doing but to determine its value. That’s why the equation starts with the priority outcomes at the top.  Below are the measurements that will show how well you’re doing.

Here are the basic steps for developing your success equation, which assumes the organization has already decided on the strategies it will use:

Define D, the Ultimate impact. What is your organization aspiring to achieve?

Define A, B, and C, the priority outcomes. What are the intermediate outcomes to reach that impact? How will accomplishing A, B, and C, make it clear that you are progressing toward D?

Define the measures. How will you measure progress toward A, B, and C?

How It Works

This example below shows how a nonprofit charter school seeking to increase student learning could use the Success Equation.

The three most important outcomes it’s aiming for are to improve student academic achievement, develop knowledge and skills for the 21st century, and broaden access to education.

To measure academic achievement, the group will look at the number and percentage of students who are on track to graduate as well as those who are enrolled in a rigorous curriculum and those who achieve a grade-point average of 3.0 or greater.

To measure how well students are doing with 21st-century skills, it looks at proficiency in multimedia and in the use of digital technology.



To measure access to education, it tracks the number and percentage of students or parents who attend open houses, number and percentage of applications from new families, and number and percentage who take advantage of alternate transportation options.

When done properly, this simple framework sums up an organization’s impact in one page in a clear and concise way.