Are You Counting or Are You Measuring?May 11, 2010 By Steve MacLaughlin
Continuing our coverage of the Association of Fundraising Professionals 47th International Conference held in Baltimore last month, Steve MacLaughlin, director of Internet solutions at Blackbaud, shares his presentation, "Everything You Need to Know About Measuring Online Results but Were Afraid to Ask."
Our everyday lives are full of numbers and metrics. The hours and minutes on the alarm clock. The temperature of the water that hits our face. The expiration date on the milk. The distance to our offices. The posted speed limit on the road. The number of e-mails waiting in the inbox. We live in a sea of things that can be counted and metrics that can be measured.
Metrics provide us with a time machine that gives us insights into things that happened in the past and can help predict the future. Nonprofit metrics exist in categories that range from operational to programmatic, financial, and communication and engagement channels used with constituents.
This is especially true of the online world where there is a very unique set of metrics — hits, clicks, tweets, opens, page views, followers, forwards, actions and conversions are just some of them. This is very different from other communication channels, like direct mail, where measuring exactly what people did can be difficult.
Go through a handful of online statistics and they can quickly pile up. You had 13,217 page views on your website last week. You have 6,353 followers on Twitter. That last e-mail message had a 34.7 percent clickthrough rate; 298 people made online gifts to your organization over the weekend. The pile always gets higher and higher.
But there is a fundamental question nonprofits need to ask themselves: Are you counting, or are you measuring? Counting doesn’t actually count for very much. As it turns out, when you count things you’re usually successful. That is not always true when you start measuring things.
A person who just counts things can only tell you that $537,891 was donated online to the organization last year. Yes, that’s a number, but there’s not much value in it. Not a lot of insight. It doesn’t pass the “so what and who cares?” test.
A person who measures things wants to know a lot more: What was it in the past? What is it today? Where do you want it to be in the future? What’s the value of the difference? These are questions that help measure metrics and give organizations answers.