Study: For nonprofits, a silver lining regarding PR metrics

Despite familiar challenges, a compilation of results from five surveys reveals that support from top leaders and an array of new tools can clear away the clouds hanging over measurement.

Nonprofit PR measurement

Despite many obstacles, nonprofits can improve their measurement and evaluation processes.

Although most nonprofit PR departments lack the resources of for-profit businesses, most enjoy support from their organizations’ leaders, says a new study from the Institute for Public Relations. They also have sophisticated PR measurement methods and tools at their disposal.

The IPR research synthesized existing findings from five recent surveys and analyzed content of 15 years of nonprofits’ reports. Here are three key findings:

1. A disparity exists in nonprofits’ PR measurement practices.

Although 92% of nonprofit organizations measure their work, fewer (71%) measure their communications.

Communicators at nonprofits tend to measure metrics that focus on output, or how many mentions they achieved, rather than attitude changes, such as their impact on financial and strategic results. Favorite metrics include social media engagement (retweets and “likes”), website activity, social media mentions, and traditional media placements.

Nonprofits conduct more quantitative research than qualitative research; the bigger the organization is, the more qualitative and quantitative research organization conducts.

Most nonprofit organizations (84%) spend less than the recommended amount of 5% to 10% of their budgets on measurement and evaluation. Nonprofits cite several barriers to evaluating their communications, especially insufficient staff, time and budget.

2. Nonprofits appreciate the value of measurement.

Most CEOs and chairmen (80%) say measuring communications is important, and most top leaders (70%) rely on such metrics when allocating funds. Most nonprofits say executive leaders or program staff are primarily responsible for conducting evaluations; only 6% have internal evaluation staff, and just 2% rely on an external evaluator. Top leaders appear to support measurement, but they expect their employees to handle it, the report concludes.

3. Nonprofits have hope for improvement.

Despite nonprofits’ limited PR measurement, PR scholars and professionals have developed cutting-edge methods to measure the impact of the practice and to use measurement findings to improve messages and channels, writes report author Jungkyu Rhys Lim, a University of Maryland doctoral candidate studying public relations and strategic communication.

“The potential of measuring public relations’ impacts have not fully realized. It is future nonprofit public relations professionals and scholars’ roles to work together with measurement specialists to develop rigorous measurement and innovate use,” Lim states.

Other PR experts point out that nonprofits can gain substantial benefits from monitoring social media and traditional channels.

“Time and again, social listening has provided us with compelling information to speak with our supporters about issues they care about, when they care about them,” says Diana Onken, director of Save the Children Action Network.

A version of this post first appeared on the blog.

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