Investing in Nonprofit Measurement and Learning

Investing in a Salesforce administrator is a key factor for an organization to be successful with Salesforce. But what about someone who is also thinking strategically about how the organization is measuring their work and learning from the data? Lauren Shaughnessy serves in exactly that role for Habitat for Humanity Greater San Francisco. As Director of Measurement & Learning, Lauren is focused on building systems, processes and organizational culture that embeds measurement and learning into everything Habitat does. Prior to Habitat, Lauren worked as a consultant at The Bridgespan Group advising national non-profit organizations on a range of topics including strategy and performance measurement.

Brad Struss talked to her about her role and why nonprofit organizations need to consider investing in the role.

Tell me what your day to day work looks like?
My responsibilities are a mix of strategic work for the organization and the tactical execution of collecting and reporting on data to communicate our impact. Generally speaking, my time is split between (1) tracking and reporting the impact of our homeownership, home repair and volunteer programs, (2) acting as our organization’s Salesforce administrator (3) supporting broader data reporting needs for the organization for fundraising purposes or board reporting and (4) working externally to collaborate with other Habitat affiliates to communicate our collective impact. I also support broader organizational projects – for example, I conducted several analyses to support our strategic planning process the first half of this year and am now helping with identifying what data we will use to measure our progress against our 3-year strategic plan.

How did you get into this role?
My formal education is in business (both undergrad and grad school) and my professional roles have always been analytically based, working for a mix of for-profit and nonprofit organizations. My experience as a consultant at Bridgespan prior to joining Habitat was definitely the most valuable to my current role. As a consultant I worked with many clients on defining their theory of change/intended impact, and leveraging primary and secondary research to support strategic direction. In many ways, my role today is almost as an “internal consultant,” with the exception that I actually have to implement my own strategy!

As for my experience with Salesforce before Habitat – I knew absolutely nothing. Learning to be a Salesforce administrator was 100% on the job learning. And I love it!

If you were a Salesforce administrator looking to grow into this role, what types of skills do you suggest focusing on? How do you layer on this strategy work with the day to day work of a Salesforce admin?
I think it’s super easy to get lost in the day to day work of being a Salesforce admin and forget that the platform is a means to an end and not the end itself. Specifically, I think it’s really important for a non-profit to have some sort of logic model / theory of change that clearly articulates what impact the organization is trying to achieve. (There are a lot of free resources out there to help you build one of these!) Having this in place before diving into all the customizations and potential reporting that Salesforce can provide helps you keep laser focus on measuring only the critical aspects of your work versus every possible data point.

Tactically, if someone is trying to make the jump from Salesforce administrator to a more strategic role I would recommend getting more exposure to strategic conversations at your organization where possible. This could look like participating in a strategic planning process, annual organization goal-setting or reading through a full grant for context rather than just providing the numbers that go into the grant. The more context you have for the data you need the more powerful Salesforce becomes as a tool.

What advice do you have for an organization looking to make the business case for adding this role? What are the benefits an org can expect to see?
I think most nonprofits know that foundations, government and donors are increasingly focused on organizations being able to clearly articulate the impact they are having with philanthropic dollars. I would argue that it’s really hard to do this effectively without good data and in order to get good data it’s critical to resource an organization accordingly.

The process of actually collecting, tracking and analyzing data is pretty time intensive. However, most organizations tend to spread the responsibilities of data measurement across many different program staff who are also responsible for delivering critical services to their constituents. The benefit of a role like mine is that I am not operationalizing programs – I’m 100% focused on how to communicate the impact of our work and ensuring we have the systems in place to do so. This frees up our program staff to do what they do best – serve our homeowners.

What type of background should nonprofits look for when hiring for this type of role?
I think a blend of strategy and implementation is important. It’s unlikely to have a full measurement and learning department for most nonprofits, so a director of measurement needs to know how to think strategically and actually be able to implement strategy in a way that is accessible and useful for the organization. And sustainable. It’s important in this role to be able to take a 10,000 foot view and get really deep in the weeds.

Tell me more about the title. How does your role embody learning? How does your role embody measurement?
Measurement: I’m constantly measuring data in this role. I do that in many ways – via data we collect during our application cycles, through surveys, through focus groups, through interviews, through external research, etc. This gives me the raw content needed to understand our impact and specifically our impact in context of the greater need.

Learning: Everything comes down to learning! Our program staff learns from our data to improve the services we deliver and all our remaining staff learns how the work we do rolls up to impact and helps us all better communicate the difference we’re making.

Interested in learning more? Check out what a Director of Measurement and Learning job description looks like.