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A Different Way of Measuring Success

What's on your top ten list of success indicators for your organization?  I suspect for most of us success has a lot to do with the number of people served -- visitors, members, ticket holders, participants in after-school programs.  Would a balanced budget, meeting or exceeding goal in a fundraising campaign, or growing invested funds be on the list?  

As so many cultural nonprofits now struggle for financial and programmatic equilibrium, are the turnstile and the cash drawer alone sufficient -- or even accurate -- indicators of organizational health and future well-being?  What about the importance of an organization's holdings or its positive impact on society?  Would the quality of your organization's work be a success indicator?  How would you measure it?

Five years ago, Maxwell L. Anderson, the current Director and CEO of the Indianapolis Museum of Art, took on the topic in his paper for the Getty Leadership Institute titled Metrics for Success in Art Museums.  Anderson posits that much of what art museums use as success indicators, such as attendance, membership or the number of exhibitions, are too widely variable for assessing organizational health over the longer term.  Instead, he urges that success indicators must:
  • be directly connected with the core values and mission of the organization
  • be reliable indicators of long-term organizational and financial health, and
  • be easily verified and reported
While Anderson focused exclusively on art museums, he has developed a standard that can be readily adapted to all cultural nonprofits, and probably most all nonprofits.  The metrics cluster around eleven features of an institution's activities, including quality of experience, fulfillment of the educational mandate, institutional reputation, management priorities, caliber and diversity of staff, and standards of governance.

Anderson's list of metrics has new saliency in 2009.  It deserves a (re)visit.  

Photo:  Measuring tape sphere (large) by Nick Sayers


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