Metrics for Success: Process to Progress

metrics July 1, 2016

Where are you going, what do you need to do to get there, and how do you know when you’ve arrived? The ASAE Foundation’s Metrics for Success study is helping associations answer those key questions.

How member-serving organizations specifically can best measure performance—and use those measures effectively—is at the core of the multi-phase ASAE Foundation research undertaking Metrics for Success. Conducted in partnership with Root Cause, the study’s early results are beginning to identify the advantages of using performance measures and the elements of performance metrics models that can be applied across the board to association work.

Through deliberate application of performance measures, associations are responding to member needs, revamping events, analyzing revenue sources, tuning content strategy, and increasing financial security and board efficiency (see sidebar).

89%Percentage of association leaders who considered performance measurement important to an association’s success.

Finding the correct measures to track is a fluid process that needs to be tailored to an association’s industry or profession. The following phases of evaluation outline distinct aspects in a cycle of ongoing reassessment that can help associations streamline their approach to strategic decision making:

Key objectives. These include what an organization hopes to achieve in relation to its mission (intended impacts) and the measurable results (outcomes) in pursuit of that mission.

Process and outcome indicators. These indicators mark that predetermined actions are being accomplished and assess whether the organization’s overall goals are being achieved.

Application. Are the data being collected in a framework that ensures the information is directly useful to stakeholders in evaluating established markers of progress? 

Accuracy. Does the information provide an accurate picture of the organization’s progress, or do the key measures need to be redefined?

Assumption testing. In this phase, an organization evaluates its strategy and the assumptions underlying its originally stated impact and outcomes plan. Often data-based analyses indicate that strategic objectives or points of evaluation should be amended, informing a revision process that allows associations to narrow the path toward their immediate and long-term goals.

How Do Associations Use Performance Metrics?

The foundation solicited the input of a small cohort of trade associations and professional societies to guide the approach for the next phase of Metrics for Success. Participants shared their methods of performance measurement and the decisions they made based on the results.

Most of the executives agreed that performance measurement was integral to their association’s success. About three-quarters of the participants said their organization had a process to compare activities to outcome and impact. Of those, half were using informal or ad hoc methods, and half had a structured process in place.

Association leaders used performance metrics to implement changes that aligned their organizations more closely to their strategic goals, such as eliminating or redirecting resources to programs that weren’t performing, modifying membership models to improve retention, reevaluating staffing and compensation structures, making changes to education programs, and amending or implementing nondues revenue programs.

The Metrics for Success study will continue to analyze performance measurement systems that are particularly effective in associations. The research will further the understanding of how associations establish and track strategies to improve their organizational health and align activities to their mission, providing member-serving organizations a set of performance measurement tools to gather the information needed to inform effective decision making.