One Metric Your Non-profit Should Track

Posted in strategic plan / operations plan

One Metric Your Non-profit Should Track

Maybe you’ve heard the term key performance indicators. Did it make your head spin? Maybe you looked at all the outcomes in your non-profit’s strategic plan and THAT made your head spin. Non-profits need to track stats but when the organization is small, or there is a long history of doing the same programming each year, and especially if there are no paid staff, tracking stats is a time luxury that gets put on the ‘some day’ list.

Ignoring metrics/stats/data will put the non-profit in a rut that can actually become dangerously comfortable. It might take years for someone to notice that, for example, volunteer turnover is very high, and something needs to be addressed, or spending for a specific program is quite reasonable and the model should be used more often. The good news is a small non-profit doesn’t need to jump right into a full dashboard of hundreds of measurements to keep things running smoothly. Start with one. Yep, just 1.


In a small non-profit, volunteers are the backbone. Tracking when they come into the organization, how long they stay, where they contribute (board, program, fundraising), and the hours they are providing, can help to monitor what’s working and what’s not. A simple spreadsheet can track the data. It might take a while to become a habit, but volunteers should be asked to report their volunteering hours at regular intervals.

Keep these numbers as very simple measurements and schedule a time for the board to review the findings 1-2 times per year. Each non-profit will need to decide what determines success and what determines a red flag. To kick off tracking, begin by monitoring the number of years a volunteer has been with the organization. For anyone who volunteers more or less than 2 years, look at the commonalities from year to year and discuss the concerns that might need to be addressed and the good news that might need to be repeated.

Imagine the growth a non-profit can achieve when armed with a handful of simple stats

If there is a long history of volunteers leaving the organization after (for example) a year, and they were primarily involved with the board of directors, it becomes obvious that something in that experience is missing. Maybe its training, and now the organization has hard data to make a compelling case for grant funding.

If there seems to be a pattern of volunteers being more involved in a specific program, it becomes clearer that the experience is working. Maybe there’s a lot more fun had at that event, and now the organization has hard data to apply that format to other areas to repeat the success.

When a non-profit can identify even a few positives and a few negatives in its operations that’s progress. That’s growth.

To get your non-profit started on its data tracking journey, start with a volunteer tracking spreadsheet. Begin by tracking the date a volunteer first joined (their first event or the date on a form – whatever works), what they are working on (board, program, fundraising), and the number of hours they are volunteers (even if someone needs to guestimate).

The board should review the data 1-2 times per year but can review it more often as desired. Begin to look for ‘interesting’ patterns. The total volunteer hours will be the first thing a leadership team will notice because it is usually a very impressive number. Be proud of that number. As volunteers drop off, the length of volunteer time will be the second thing the leadership team will likely notice. This will help to identify areas of concern.

Finally, if your non-profit wants to take this a wee bit further, it can begin to include demographic data in the volunteer tracking spreadsheet. Understanding demographics is important if your non-profit wants to explore diversity, equity, and inclusion in its volunteer pool.

When a non-profit wants to start tracking data, beginning with a volunteer tracking spreadsheet is an easy step to implement and an easy data source to understand.

Thanks for taking the time to read my ideas. My mission is to take the mystery out of running a small non-profit. If you know someone who needs to read this, why not grab the link, and share it with them. Let’s work together to make data tracking easy.



Hi, I'm Christie Saas, former board member, current Executive Director, and non-profit volunteer. I remember well, those early years when I lacked the training, the confidence, and the work-life balance to focus on becoming the best non-profit leader I could be.

Fast-forward past many bumps in the road, lessons learned, and you’ll find me still in the trenches, but a little wiser, a little calmer, and a whole lot happier. I love my work and I want to help you love yours too.

I created to give you tools, tips, and templates to remove the mystery of learning to run a small non-profit. If you’re a brand-new non-profit leader, or a little more seasoned, someone who’s looking to make a meaningful contribution and still have time for a full life away from the job, you’re in the right place.

© Christie Saas 2022 All Rights Reserved

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