Moneyball for Nonprofits: Why You Need Good Metrics to Make Your Team the Best in the League

From the Desk of Katie Paine

This early October edition of The Measurement Advisor is our Moneyball for Nonprofits issue. It’s all about how nonprofit organizations grow faster and change the world more effectively when they make decisions informed by solid data. You’ll find how-to measurement tips, plus advice on how the new measurement standards benefit the nonprofit world.

Why “Moneyball?” If you’ve been hiding under a rock and didn’t read the book or see the movie, Moneyball tells the story of how data analysis transformed big league baseball. The hapless Oakland A’s hadn’t won a game in years, so manager Billy Beane decided to use data (ha, what a concept!) to locate the most cost-effective players and build a winning team.


The concept has spread to other sports, and even into government. There’s a fascinating new  bi-partisan initiative called Moneyball for Government that’s pushing for the radical idea that government officials should make funding decisions and pass laws based on data, not just demands from the Left or Right. Imagine that.

So, Moneyball for nonprofits. The problem facing nonprofits today is not a lack of data or tools to work with it. What’s difficult is finding the right data—and then analyzing it to get answers that will help you do your job better. The key to solving this problem is connecting the dots between the mission and the activities with which nonprofit communicators fill their days.

How does your work advance the mission of your organization? All the press releases written, events produced, blogs posted and photographs pinned don’t amount to a hill of beans if they aren’t moving your organization forward.

Far too few nonprofit communicators take the time to make the connection between their efforts and the mission before they embark on a measurement program. When you do, the results are powerful.  Here are two examples:

Example #1: Data + Data Geeks = Answers

I was conducting a workshop for the social and digital team of a nonprofit. We went around the table and asked each person why they wanted to know more about measurement, what data they wanted, and what problems they faced. The majority of answers were:

  • “What type of images work best?” or,
  • “What type of content works best?” or,
  • “What channel we should use?”

All very common questions that I’m sure most of my readers have heard a dozen times. Wouldn’t it be nice if we had some way to answer them?

Fortunately we had two data geeks in the room who between them controlled seven years of data from Google Analytics, Facebook Insights, and Twitter. So we brainstormed.

The first challenge was to define what “works best” means. After some discussion we agreed that “increasing viewer engagement” was the goal. We further defined “viewer engagement” as sharing, commenting, retweeting, clicking “favorite,” and either downloading content or uploading viewer-created content around a particular initiative. (Notice we didn’t include Facebook “likes” in the mix. This team’s most important stakeholders didn’t think much of a pile of likes; they wanted higher levels of engagement.)

Armed with the questions and our specific definitions of terms, the data geeks agreed to dig into the data, do some comparisons (really A/B tests), and get back to the workshop with the information the attendees wanted. It was a powerful lesson in how the right data in the right hands can solve problems and improve communication.

Not every organization has seven years of data and willing data geeks to help provide answers. But remember that Google Analytics and other common tools are free and not hard to set up. (We’ll discuss these in the next issue of The Measurement Advisor.)

Example #2: Define what you want before you buy the tool to get it.

A nonprofit health care organization wanted help defining its metrics. They already had data that showed that people donated to the organization primarily because of personal connections. Typically, people were inspired to donate or volunteer after a friend or family member had used the organization’s service or volunteered. They also knew that a primary driver of loyalty was a person’s experience with the organization’s staff. After some intense discussion and fierce priority setting, we decided that the ultimate definition of success would be “increased engagement and retention of volunteers and staff.”

Clearly they needed a tool or methodology to regularly measure engagement and retention of their volunteers. Turns out this information was already extant in their database, it just never occurred to them to ask HR for the data. Furthermore, they were shocked to realize that they had just purchased an $85,000 media measurement platform that would not deliver the metrics they needed. It was another powerful lesson in the value of the right data.

We hope that you’ll share this issue of The Measurement Advisor with anyone you know who works in a nonprofit. Maybe we’ll change the world a little faster or a little more efficiently.

Happy measuring,


About Author

Katie Paine

I've been called The Queen Of Measurement, but I prefer Seshat, the Goddess.