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News vom 23.05.2019

Survey: Nonprofits‘ Public Relations Measurement and Evaluation

review by Sibylle Merkel

Survey Review: Nonprofits' PR Measurement

Research Interest

How to measure and evaluate the communication of nonprofit organizations? What is the benefit of the collected data for a proof of impact and what potential for optimisation of communication work can be generated?


Mixed-method survey: synthesis of results from five international online surveys from 2015-2017 and content analysis of annual reports of 230 non-profit organisations from 15 years


The relevance of performance measurement and evaluation for the successful implementation of organisational goals is also undisputed in non-profit organisations. Over 90% of the NGOs surveyed collect and analyse data on their activities.

For the sub-area of communication measurement, however, the assessment of the present study brings to light the relative importance of this issue:

  • 80% of those surveyed stated that top management is convinced of the importance of measuring success.   
  • Only 70% of the PR experts surveyed have measurements carried out in their area of responsibility.
  • The results of such measurements are reflected only to a limited extent in the annual reports also evaluated in the study - in 13% of the NGOs.

In order to measure the success of communication, the NGOs surveyed primarily collected values on the outcome level - especially in the area of social media - and for outflow:  

  • Top KPIs Outcome: social media commitment, target group awareness, website activity, social media actions, perception of the target group, mapping of core messages in social media actions
  • Top KPIs Outflow: amount of donations, people/animals saved, improvement of health outcomes

According to the PR experts interviewed, the data collected was used:

  • primarily to prove the effectiveness of their own communication work
  • only a good fifth of the total to disclose optimization potential
  • for primarily internal purposes, such as reports to management or for planning or auditing programs and strategies
  • externally most likely to be in reports to donors and other stakeholders

The biggest hurdles in the implementation of communication evaluation in non-profit organisations are the lack of time, money and know-how

  • Data collection and analysis in the field of communication is mainly carried out by staff of NGOs
  • The know-how of communicators in non-profit organisations is weaker in comparison with self-assessments by PR professionals from private sector companies: Only just over half of the PR professionals in NGOs surveyed stated that they had knowledge in handling data and content analysis or in designing and conducting surveys.
  • The surveys are often only conducted selectively. As a result, statements about the development and impact of communication measures are only possible to a limited extent.

In view of the scope and complexity of the subject area, the author recommends cooperation with external analysts and experts.

Our Conclusion

The results of this broad-based study focusing on non-profit organisations add an interesting perspective to the surveys on the relevance and implementation of communication evaluation.

Unfortunately, the large number of sources used makes it difficult to read and compare the individual results. The potential for optimisation announced in the introduction with regard to a more targeted use of the data obtained is also somewhat meagre. The author also relies on the rather old and incomplete Lindemann's 2012 model for the collection of KPIs at various levels of impact. We have "translated" the findings into the FREP's frame of reference in order to make them easier to understand.

It is astonishing to note that there is a certain amount of catching up to do when measuring communication success compared to other areas of NGO organization. Far less data is collected and analysed here. In addition, less than half of the PR professionals in NGOs focus on specific indicators. Non-profit institutions in particular depend on effective communication to activate their target groups, to prove that funds are being used for the intended purpose and to acquire sponsors and supporters.

Two practical examples cited in the study are a valuable addition. They clearly show the potential of communication measurement and evaluation, if it is used beyond the mere impact measurement rather predictively for a strategic optimization of communication activities.


April 2019: Institute for Public Relations; Jungkyu Rhys Lim

More information on the survey: Nonprofits' Public Relations Measurement and Evaluation

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