Proving the Difference Your Association Makes

Many associations now try to establish meaningful metrics to drive progress and monitor performance.  Yet few can show you metrics that effectively measure their mission impact.

Measures of mission impact answer the toughest question of all: did my association make our world better in ways that are important to our members, stakeholders and even the public?  Are we serving our public purpose well?   

It is difficult to measure mission impact. First you have to be clear on what those outcomes are. The answer should be in your vision if it is a good one.  

Second, you can rarely prove that your association’s actions were decisive in securing those outcomes.  You are not the only actor trying to improve society’s systems.  However, if you invest in the research, it is possible to prove that your profession’s or industry’s competencies lead to better outcomes. When these competencies are absent, the results are not the same. Yet it is surprising how few associations invest in proving the value their members provide. They just want the public to believe because their members do.

If you have done the research to prove what your members are doing does make a difference on some micro level, then you can use some proxy from the macro level that reflects the progress you are seeking.   Yes this is still an extrapolation, but it can be an honest and transparent attempt to take responsibility for your members’ contributions to this larger outcome. Just be careful not to overreach the evidence with your claim.

There’s another useful way to back into meaningful metrics for mission impact.  The goals in your strategic plan should tie directly to significant strategies to achieve your vision. Can you set a useful metric at the goal level?  Is there one metric that signals progress toward the results you are seeking?  If you try to develop metrics at the objectives level, you risk confusing progress with completing the task. Stay at the goals level and you are more likely to stay focused on outcomes.

While there may be no easy and widely accepted measures of mission impact your association can use, you still should try to create your own framework for measuring the value your association and its members offer the world.  Other performance indicators—the easy ones-- will help you monitor your association’s success in key areas like membership, finances, advocacy, learning and volunteer engagement.  These performance indicators will tell you if you are doing things right. They can’t tell you if you are doing the right things to achieve your vision.  Good measures of mission impact will tell you the truth you need to hear.