Monday, March 4, 2013

Measuring Success

How do people measure success?

In business, success is measured by calculating sales, profit and amount of discussion about your company.

In sports, success is measured by wins, championships and trophies.

In academia, success is measured through grades, published papers and awards.

But how is success measured in the world of a non-profit operating with the single goal of changing peoples lives?

Can success be measured through calculating, winning, publishing and awarding?

I am not so sure it can.  Measuring success for NGO's like TGC is a complicated thing that can not simply be done by crunching numbers on a excel spreadsheet. The complexity to measure success for the entire organization is a difficult task to do, with no right way of doing it. On a personal level, I have attempted to measure my success at TGC and have found it to be a challenge.

Part of the experience I am having involves constantly assessing the work I am doing to see if it is successful (and should therefore continue)or if it is a failure (and should therefore immediately stop).  Of course, I have had a lot of failures.  Failures are an important part of life.  They teach you valuable lessons and also allow you to re-evaluate your plans going further.  Moreover, failures make successes that much better.  I believe it was Truman Capote (the author of Breakfast at Tiffany's) who once said that "Failure is the condiment that gives success its flavor."

The easy thing about failures is that you know when they happen.  In my current life, failures are identifiable by students who aren't smiling, bad grades on exams, boredom, and written proposals that never turn in to what they propose.  My failures, for the most part, can be seen immediately.

Successes, on the other hand, are much more difficult to identify.  The problem with determining whether a program, class or event is successful at an NGO level is that the results are not always immediate.  Of course, their are some obvious successes the show up pretty quickly. Happy and excited students, high participation and attendance and positive discussion are all signs of a success.  However, when you are working in the "business" of attempting to change a persons life with your actions, successes take time to show themselves.  Sometimes it takes days, weeks, or even months to see and feel tangible successful results.

This phenomenon is incredibly frustrating while also being extremely rewarding. On one hand, not being able to know if you have been successful makes you constantly question yourself.  What am I doing wrong?  Am I good at my job?  What can I do differently?  On the other hand, when those successes finally show up, they make you smile that much wider.  More than this, I have come to learn that these "delayed-successes" are usually the ones that confirm actual change.

Earlier in my life, while the President of the Long Island region of the B'nai B'rith Youth Organization (BBYO), I learned a similar lesson.  Throughout the beginning of my presidency our region struggled to gain membership from Jewish teens.  As our numbers decreased so did the quality of our programming.  In order to combat this, we worked on building our region back up from its roots.  For an entire year I worked tirelessly to re-create a stronger and more welcoming organization for the Jewish teen population of Long Island.  At the end of that year, when all the hard work was done, I had almost nothing to show for it.  There was no "great" success.

Two years later, I returned to a BBYO annual convention to witness an astonishing thing.  With an attendance of close to 400 people, and a male population of more than half, the region I had worked so hard for had grown to new heights.  The programming was stronger.  The teens were more engaged. And the organization was attracting attention throughout the world...

..."Delayed Success"

So, how can we measure success?

We create something.  We implement it.  We wait. And one day we will return to see that what we have done did in fact change the course of someones life.  When that day comes, success won't need to be measured.  Instead, it will simply be felt.

1 comment:

  1. agree with alot of what you wrote here, Ian.