Use Matrix Mapping to Assess Events

matrixIn their book Nonprofit Sustainability: Making Strategic Decisions for Financial Viability (Jossey-Bass, 2010), Jeanne Bell, Jan Masaoka, and Steve Zimmerman proposed visualizing a nonprofit’s business model using a method they called “matrix mapping.” In matrix mapping, the financial profitability and mission impact of each activity are assessed and then plotted on a Cartesian grid. The result is an easy-to-grasp graphic representation of the relative strengths and weaknesses of an organization’s activities. Depending on where an activity lands on the grid, the nonprofit can then take steps to improve underperforming activities as well as to sustain those activities that are performing well.

When a client recently contacted Dallas-based nonprofit consulting firm Rylander Associates ( seeking to revise its strategic plan, principal Carole Rylander, CFRE, realized that matrix mapping might be an effective way for the organization to assess how closely its 12 events aligned with its strategic objectives.

Rylander began by collecting the income, total direct expenses, and allocated indirect expenses for each event, and plotting them in a spreadsheet. This step required several iterations until all the numbers lined up and everyone understood what they were seeing. “They have the numbers,” Rylander says. “They just don’t tend to arrange them in the way needed for matrix mapping.”

She suggests documenting this process in order to avoid having to reconstruct it later.

Next, Rylander and her clients worked together to assess the impact of each of the 12 events. However, unlike profitability, which is based on hard numbers, impact is not in itself a quantitative measure. To compare profitability and impact, impact must be represented numerically. Rylander and her clients identified several impact criteria that applied to their events from the list of criteria in Nonprofit Sustainability, specifically:

  • alignment with core mission
  • excellence of implementation
  • scale or volume
  • depth of change and impact
  • effectiveness at filling a gap
  • community-building capability
  • leverage
  • addressing of root causes
  • contribution to academic-quality knowledge

Then, the evaluators weighted the relative importance of each of the selected criteria by assigning it a numerical value that, when added all together, equalled 100. Rylander points out that the more criteria you select, the less statistically significant each one becomes. The authors of Nonprofit Sustainability recommend selecting four or five at most.

Having established and weighted the impact criteria, the evaluators then added the fundraising events to the spreadsheet and, for each event, assigned a rating of one (lowest) to four (highest) for each of the impact criteria. Rylander also added total volunteer hours per event into her matrix, as a way of allowing the client to assess whether that precious resource was being allocated appropriately.

When the ranking results were transferred from a spreadsheet to the matrix grid, the results were eye-opening. The matrix showed that two of the organization’s longest-standing events, a fun run and a food booth at a fair, were much less profitable and had a much lower impact that the board had realized. “The placement of the run on the matrix map opened up a fantastic conversation about what other, more effective, strategies could be implemented to gain visibility,” says Rylander. “With the matrix map it’s actually possible to make the case for opportunity costs. As in, ‘What if you took that money, time, and energy and focused it elsewhere?'”

Ultimately, says Rylander, using matrix mapping to assess event performance is about giving nonprofit leaders the information they need to make effective decisions about going forward. “I think it’s the same as in psychology,” she says. “You can’t change what you’re not aware of. However, you can change what you are aware of.”

This post was adapted from “Brilliant Ideas: How to Create an Unforgettable and Successful Event with Multimedia, Community Engagement, and Spotlighting Your Programs,” by Paul Lagasse, Advancing Philanthropy, Summer 2014 (reprinted with permission). You can read the whole article here.

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Author: Paul Lagasse

Paul Lagasse provides expert-to-expert communications services to nonprofit, business, and government clients in the metro Baltimore-DC area. Specialties include science and medical writing, technical report editing, and content marketing.