You’re communicating all the time: you publish a newsletter, post a story, create a video, interact with people on Facebook, retweet an interesting post, or reach out to a journalist.

But in all this busyness, how do you know if you’ve been successful? How do you know if you’ve had any impact? How do you know if you’ve been doing the right thing, or if you would have had more success doing something differently?

You don’t want to waste your limited resources on things that don’t really work. You want to focus your time on things that have the most impact.

This is why you need to measure your impact.

Focus your time on things that have the most impact #measuringimpact #NPMC Click To Tweet

How often should you measure impact?

Measuring your communications impact isn’t something you do just once, or even just once a year. (This is the bad news). You want to make it a part of your routine, so you can see trends and react to something that doesn’t look quite right.

It can be intimidating to get started — it sounds like a lot. And this is why, despite our best intentions, many of us don’t invest any time in measuring our communications.

But here’s the good news — you don’t have to do everything at once. Start with measuring just one thing — and then go on to the next. Pretty soon you will have created a really good baseline, and updating your data won’t take all that much time.

Start by making sure you understand what you want to achieve — how your communications are supporting your organization’s mission (and overall goals).

For each tool or channel, there are different ways to measure success or impact. Some of these methods are free, some take very little time, and some require more time and money.

At Maytree, we measure our performance monthly and put together a simple report we can share with all staff.


What can you measure, and how?

Website

Your website is most likely your organization’s most important communications channel. This is where your audience will learn about what it is you’re doing, access your latest reports, and find the best ways to stay and get in touch with you.

Here’s what you want to know:

  • How do people find you?
  • Do they stay on and look through the site?
  • What are your top pages? How well are pages doing that really matter to you?
  • How are specific campaigns working (are campaign pages entrance pages)?
  • Are there good days to post your content (or days that don’t work)?
  • How are your archive pages doing (i.e., those pages where visitors can find all your publications and search for the one they’re looking for)?
  • How often are your reports downloaded?

Like most nonprofits, Maytree uses Google analytics to get this information. If you’re just getting started, take a look at Seneca Garber’s in-depth post on How to set up (and use) your nonprofit’s Google Analytics account.


Newsletter

For most organizations, newsletters are still the most effective tool to reach your audiences directly.

Newsletters tell people about your latest reports, upcoming events, and important news from your network.

Here’s what you want to know:

  • What is the state of your mailing list? Is your mailing list growing (or shrinking)? Is your target audience well represented?
  • What about your open rates? Are there subscribers who haven’t opened a newsletter in a while? Can you find out why not? Should you reengage them? Should you delete them (and after how long a time of inactivity)? How do you compare to others in the sector?
  • What stories do readers click on? What doesn’t get any clicks? Do headlines matter?
  • Do you know your bounce rate? How clean is your list? Does your mailing system delete email addresses that are no longer reaching anyone? After how long? Can you access the names of the emails that bounce and look for alternative email addresses?
  • How do people read your newsletter (on mobile, on desktop)? You want to make sure your newsletter can be accessed (and seen) on the devices most used by your audience.
  • Do readers share your newsletter? Do you make it easy to share?

Maytree gets this information through its email service (we’re using MailChimp – but most will provide you with similar information). If you’re just starting out, you may want to read Aerin Guy’s post on How to develop an email marketing strategy for your nonprofit.


Social media

Social media plays an important role in staying engaged with your organization’s audience. It’s a way to promote your latest news, to find out what matters in your sector, and to exchange ideas.

Here’s what you want to know:

  • How engaged are your followers (retweets, click on links, sharing, comments)?
  • Does social media drive web traffic?
  • Are you growing your followers? Are the right people following and engaging with you? Do you have trolls (and what’s your protocol to deal with them)?

At Maytree, we focus on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn. Each tool has its own analytics section. It’s worthwhile spending some time finding out what information you can get.

There’s also much more to be done here, both in terms of the platforms available and the tools you can use for each one. For more on social media, start with Lauren Girardin’s post on Which social media channels should your nonprofit use for the best results?


Public relations

As a nonprofit, much of what you do is likely trying to get your audience to do something, whether it’s getting a journalist to cover an event, asking the government to pass a new law, or persuading the public to pay attention to an important issue. You’re using media releases, writing op-eds in newspapers, and posting videos on YouTube as part of your advocacy. These are all part of your public relations efforts.

Here’s what you want to know:

  • Did you get coverage following a media release? Did journalists contact you for comment or additional information? Did media attend your event? Are you a part of a journalist’s rolodex? Do journalists call you to be connected to your network?
  • Are you mentioned with a quote? Is the mention positive, negative, or neutral? In which section did the article appear? Was there any follow-up from other media?
  • Do you get invitations to be part of roundtables or consultations, or present your work?
  • Are your reports and posts mentioned or reposted on other organizations’ blogs or websites?
  • Are your reports being used for university or college courses?
  • What other public relations successes have you had?

At Maytree, we track our media coverage using Google Alerts and Feedly. Of course, nothing beats a daily review of our most relevant media, including newspapers, magazines and online publications. We also maintain (and regularly update) a media list with journalists who write about our issues. We use Salesforce to record media calls and coverage.

For an example of how we use media relations, read my post How to use a media alert to attract media coverage for your nonprofit. For an excellent book on public relations, especially when you’re working in communications on social justice issues, read Jennifer R. Farmer’s Extraordinary PR, Ordinary Budget: A Strategy Guide.


These are just a few things you can do to measure the impact of your communications. And while this might seem a daunting task at first, remember that you can start small. Once you start measuring your communications, you will be able to decide what you will continue, what you will change, and what you may choose to abandon.

What have you been doing or doing differently when it comes to measuring your communications? Share your thoughts with us in the comments.

How you can start measuring the impact of your nonprofit communications Click To Tweet
Markus Stadelmann-Elder

Markus Stadelmann-Elder

Director of Communications at Maytree
Since arriving in Toronto from Switzerland in 1992, Markus has worked and volunteered in a number of communications roles, including leading an in-house design team at Lavalife, Toronto’s largest online dating company, and managing the communications team at Variety Village. In January 2009, Markus joined Maytree, a charitable foundation focused on reducing poverty and inequality in Canada and building strong civic communities.
Markus Stadelmann-Elder
Markus Stadelmann-Elder