Mattering without measuring

“Measure what matters,” business folks like to say. But what if what matters most can’t be measured at all? I gave this training to help nonprofits escape from the tyranny of “metrics” to communicate the deeper meanings of their work.

Mattering without measuring
Police stand in front of protesters at a demonstration at an ICE detention center in Elizabeth, New Jersey, June 30, 2019. Photo: Naftali Y. Ehrenkranz, JTA

Nonprofits are consumed with communicating about metrics. How tight is the budget? How big is the impact? How many are served? But by their nature, metrics can never capture the reality of mission. Kallie Rollenhagen and I created this workshop for the Nonprofit Communicators Workshop, sponsored by the Minnesota Council of Nonprofits, to help nonprofit storytellers escape the tyranny of measurement to communicate more powerfully about what matters most.

Workshop participants got a lot out of it! Here’s their feedback:

  • This was a powerful reframing of how we think about metrics. Yes, we know they're kind of terrible … but also that we have to do them, so how can we think about using the time for tracking and the purpose differently? It was great to get both high-level concepts and great examples of these in action, both from Neil and from others in the room.
  • I left with lots of great ideas — it’s one of the best MCN trainings I’ve attended.
  • Appreciated Neil making time for people to share their thoughts, ideas and to push back on what he was presenting. It was a thoughtful, dynamic conversation, and that feels rarer and rarer these days.
  • I’m so glad this wasn’t another session on what to be tracking on Google analytics, but truly a way of thinking and talking about our work in a more expansive, life-giving way as nonprofits and as nonprofit communicators.
  • I really liked how the presenter was willing to lean into the tension around certain topics, and even to challenge (or “gently fight with”) things we as participants said. This was done in a very respectful way and made for lively, honest conversation about our experiences and beliefs related to the topic. I found this workshop very motivating.