Strategic measurement – Pick your metrics wisely

I’ve talked before about the importance of setting metrics at the strategic level and using them to assess the success of your strategy.

But how do you pick those metrics for strategic measurement? What are you aiming for, with different strategies?


If you’ve set strategies, you need to have a sense of what those strategies will achieve. What will “done” look like to you? What will “great success” look like? The metrics you choose should be at that level, and should reflect those aspirations. Commit yourself to measuring your success at the highest level.

I’d recommend setting a couple of metrics for each of your strategies. Not too many, and keep them focused on the reasons you think those strategies will work to achieve your mission.

It’s fine to measure your output at the operational level, but it’s critical to assess your outcomes at the strategic level. Did you strike a match, or actually start the fire?

To illustrate, below are some examples of the difference between output and outcome metrics for different types of strategies that associations may adopt.


Your output metrics might include meetings with legislators, collaborations with like-minded groups, responsiveness of your membership to calls to action (e.g. letter-writing campaigns).

But your outcome metrics should clearly articulate what your legislative or policy success looks like, and the benefit your members would realize. If an important piece of legislation is written in a way that seriously disadvantages your members, your advocacy has failed, no matter how prolific your activities may have been.


This is an area where association strategy can be particularly vague. Your output metrics might include the breadth and quality of offerings, as well as uptake and participant satisfaction, but they should clearly reflect the choices inherent in the strategy.

A strategy focused on multiplatform, 24/7 availability should measure those aspects; but a strategy focused on quality and innovative content should measure those aspects instead.

Outcome metrics could assess whether anything changed as a result of this strategy. Do these activities actually translate to something different happening as your members practice their profession? Are members more effective, more successful, more profitable, happier in their work?


If you have a strategy regarding engaging in a specific way with your membership, your metrics should reflect what you are hoping your relationship with your membership looks like if you are highly successful – and can help you articulate what that actually looks like.

Do you want more members, more loyal members, more engaged members, more volunteers? Scale or intensity? Does this vary by segment?

These outcomes would then track against the measurement of the outputs – member communication vehicles, volunteer management, member events, member marketing efforts, etc.


For a strategy regarding how you run the association, the metrics should specifically reflect your operational and organizational choices, and how you expect those choices to benefit the association.

In this kind of strategy, associations typically either set the bar far too low (e.g. clean audits) or try for success on all fronts and therefore don’t really measure anything.

Are you aiming for higher quality, faster service, fewer errors, lower cost per member, moving all your transactions online? Are you transitioning to a leaner operation, are you moving towards clarity on cross-subsidization of services? Be specific about what the expected outcomes are.

If you’d like to talk about how to set effective strategies and then measure their effectiveness, please get in touch.

Contact us at or call 416-737-3935 to discuss how we might be able to help.


We offer resources to help leaders of associations and other not-for-profits think about their approach to strategy and governance, from various perspectives.