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ISSUE NUMBER 167 | July 25, 2017

What Are Your Two Key Indicators?

We all talk about big data, evaluation, dashboards and bench marks. But we tend to collect a lot of data and then end up unsure about what to do with it. Most of the time, it’s just 20% of the data that provide us with 80% of the information we need to make better decisions. Let me share a recent example of what I mean.

I walked into the Garden Court Hotel in Palo Alto CA one morning for coffee. As I was drinking it, I heard the front desk clerk answer the phone, say “Yes, 72% and 395…you’re welcome,” and then hang up. I asked her what the numbers were for. She explained the hotel is at 72% capacity and today’s hotel rate is $395.

Those two numbers were the key pieces of information that hotel management needed to understand how pricing impacts the hotel’s performance. There are no doubt countless other measures that feed into performance as well: what people order in the café, the average length of stay, or the number of rewards members who book rooms. But the management had identified these two indicators — nightly price and occupancy – as the two most important for them. And they had created systems so that this information was readily available at the drop of a hat, or in this case a phone call.

In a field where we are often overwhelmed with data, I’m fascinated by the notion of finding two key indicators to provide a quick snapshot of performance. Of course, they will vary from funder to funder, depending on what each determines as most important, but what might those two numbers be? And what if we had systems in place to track them quickly and easily, and used them to make decisions?

I can think of a few examples that might be helpful, such as:

  • Examining the average length of time it takes to make a grant and the average amount of those grants. (One new CEO I know was shocked to find that her foundation averaged nine months to make even the smallest grants. You can bet she used that data to change practice!)

  • The level of a donor advised fundholder’s engagement relative to the size of his or her contributions to the fund. Common wisdom says that greater levels of engagement lead to greater levels of contribution, but what if something else is driving either end of that spectrum? How might you capitalize on that unseen force?

  • Another foundation I’ve worked with is very interested in bottom line impact, and so it tracks the number of individuals served by each grant it makes. It also looks for trends in the fields it supports with its grantmaking. Even though foundation leaders know they can’t claim a direct correlation, they still find the measure valuable in terms of seeing if they might be helping to move the needle.

  • Of course, every foundation board tracks return on investment, but what about also tracking that number in terms of mission-related investments versus the non-mission-related ones?

  • A foundation could also measure the success of its community outreach by measuring increases (or decreases) in the number of proposals received during each cycle, or the percent of solicited versus unsolicited proposals.

These are just a few examples of potential key indicators, and many of them could work for individual grantmaking initiatives as well as foundation wide. The important thing is to figure out what the most vital points of information are to measure progress as you define it, and then to ensure you can gather and review that data quickly and frequently to spot trends and identify potential course corrections.

Do you have two key indicators that you rely on regularly? If so, please share them with me, and I may just share your experience here.

© 2017 Kris Putnam-Walkerly. All rights reserved. Permission granted to excerpt or reprint with attribution.

Kris Putnam-Walkerly, MSW,has helped to transformthe impact of top global philanthropies for over 18 years. A member of theMillion Dollar Consultant Hall of Fameand named one ofAmerica's Top 25 Philanthropy Speakers. Author of the award-winning bookConfident Giving: Sage Advice for Funders, which was named one of"The 10 Best Corporate Social Responsibility Books."For more ways to improve your giving, visitPutnam Consulting Group.

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