Learning: How buildOn.org Measures Impact

How buildOn.org uses dashboards to track success.

Jim Ziolkowski seems like the ultimate multitasker, so it’s not surprising that the nonprofit he founded, buildOn.org, is the same. The organization has set up after- school, community-service-focused programs in inner-city high schools that have mobilized at-risk students to volunteer more than a million hours toward improving their neighborhoods, and its members have traveled to help build 510 schools in developing countries.

The dual approach “breaks the cycle of poverty, illiteracy, and low expectations through service and education,” says Ziolkowski, whose past experience as an employee with GE instilled a mission-centric discipline guided by “success dashboards” that monitor domestic and international “real impact” data.

For instance, 94 percent of ­buildOn.org students not only graduate from struggling schools, but also go to college. That causal link inspired the group to measure—in addition to vol­unteer hours, participant numbers, and individuals served—two key performance indicators: academic engagement (“getting kids to come to school”) and “empowerment, an expanded sense of possibility, and the hope, leadership, and team-building that comes along with it,” says Ziolkowski.

Internationally, buildOn.org is undergoing “a global audit to look at how many kids, parents, and grandparents are attending the schools we’ve built,” he says. It also tracks the percentage of children advancing grade to grade, gains in economic self-sufficiency, improvements in health and sanitation, decreases in child and infant mortality rates, and involvement in micro-enterprise. One recommendation Ziolkowski has for others considering multinational metrics? Work with third-party evaluators such as universities.

(David Arky/Getty Images)

Kristin Clarke, CAE

By Kristin Clarke, CAE

Kristin Clarke, CAE, is books editor for Associations Now and president of Clarke Association Content. MORE

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