measuring up

gas gauge on fullA dashboard in an important part of a vehicle. It can show how fast you are going and how far you have gotten. It can warn you of what is not working and give you confidence about what is.

We can create dashboards for things other than vehicles. A few months ago, I created one for our church leadership team. In addition to finances, it shows attendance and money given away and people involved in service. It is a mixture of tables and lists and graphs.

According to Lawrence Butler (The Nonprofit Dashboard), the most important thing an organization’s dashboard can show is progress on outcomes. Outcomes are the actual changes that you are wanting to see. It not what you are doing, but whether what you are doing is making the difference you are intending.

“Defining outcomes can be difficult, especially in the case of organizations with broad missions,” Butler writes. “It is well worth making the effort, though, as doing so helps to clarify the organization’s purposes and sharpen its methods (page 13)”

I work with a number of nonprofits. Most could benefit from  figuring out how to measure simply whether they are mattering.

I started thinking about whether it’s possible to create personal dashboards as a way to evaluate whether our lives are having the impact we hope they have.

  • It’s easy to count how many posts I write.
  • It’s easy to count comments.
  • It’s easy to count subscribers.
  • It’s hard to calculate the impact each post has on how many people who have how much change in their lives.
  • It’s easy to count how many other blogs I have in my feed reader.
  • It’s hard to decide whether I am applying anything from any of them to my life.
  • It’s easy to decide whether I pray every day, or read the Bible.
  • It’s hard to decide whether it is making any difference in my life.
  • It’s easy to count the number of jumping jacks I can do.
  • It’s easy to track whether my heart rate improves as I exercise.
  • It’s hard to track how much the resulting energy allows me to accomplish.

Each of these categories, both easy and hard, is worth tracking. However, the harder something is to measure, the more likely it is to be worth trying to assess.

Because I don’t ultimately want to be measured by the number of posts I write. I don’t even want to be evaluated on the number of “nice posts” or “you’re a good writer”. What I want, what you want, is to know that lives are different in substantial ways because of what we do.

Even if it is one life.

Even if it is my own. And maybe yours.


August starts today. What do you want on your dashboard to measure how you do this month? A post a day? A hug a day? A thank you a day?


6 responses to “measuring up

  1. “Assess”–that word jumped out at me. Assessing in terms other than numerical is challenging but oh so necessary, right? Can prayer be part of assessment?

    Your final sentence is a good challenge…I’ll have to think on that. (Funny you should ask your August 1 question–I usually say something like this on the last day of the month: “If there is anything you wanted to do in (name of month), you’d better do it today.” But perhaps I should add a question like yours to the first day of every month–odd that I’ve never thought of it. What does that say about me?)

  2. it says that you think.

    And yes, prayer can be part of assessment. Observation can be as well.

  3. You’re making a difference in my life, Jon. Hard to measure just how, but know that you are having good influence.

    Thank you. Not just to be measured as a thank you but as a sincere thanks.

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  5. Deep sharing, this one. I’ve realized lately that I don’t give my best blog posts enough juice as time goes by, as I’m busy writing new material. But if I don’t let people know what I’ve shared, then I’m spinning my wheels. There is something to assess. Nurturing what’s already in place.
    Thank you for a thoughtful contribution.

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