We all want to make a difference in the world.
We all want to know that our life has meaning and there’s a reason we are here – that we have a purpose.
We all want to make a difference
So when you step into the world of philanthropy wouldn’t it be nice to know if you’re making a difference? Wouldn’t it be nice to know that your time or treasure or talent had an impact?
You can! By taking a more intentional approach to giving you can get a sense of your impact. Not perfectly, perhaps, but enough so that you can feel confident that your giving is not wasted and that your generosity is changing lives.
This is the intent of impact measurement and it’s becoming more and more prevalent in the non-profit sector. However, it’s an art not a science, and we’re all still figuring out how to do it well.
Impact measurement is an art not a science
The process begins with a Theory of Change. This is essentially a statement by the organization that defines how they intend to carry out their mission. What is the problem they are trying to solve, who are they serving, and what do they need to do to achieve their intended result?
A Logic Model then outlines the steps that must be taken for an intervention to succeed. It shows the links between program objectives, activities, and outcomes. A logic model makes clear who will be served, what should be accomplished, and how it will be done.
As you decide which organizations to support through your philanthropic giving, you want to be sure that an organization has a well thought out Theory of Change and a Logic Model to guide them in their ongoing decision making. They should be able to show you how they measure and track program evaluation. This does not need to be complex and does not require a fancy IT system. What it requires is a commitment from the leadership team and board to nurture a culture of high performance and continuous improvement so that they can be as effective as possible in the areas they serve.
The information gathered through this process is critical for two reasons. First, it permits the organization to measure and monitor on an ongoing basis the progress they are making toward reaching their goals. If they are serious about the work they are undertaking, they will absolutely want to capture this information as feedback for their staff to make course corrections as necessary in a timely fashion. This creates a culture of ongoing learning and evaluation which is critical to success.
Second, information about their results and impact is proof that their theory of change is accurate and that they’re on the right track. This is exactly the type of evidence strategic funders like you are looking for when determining where to donate.
If an organization tells you that what they do can’t be measured, it’s a cop out. There is always a way to measure results, even if imperfectly.
What can’t be measured are the “Mystery, Miracles, and Moments of Grace” that happen anywhere people of goodwill are reaching out to those in need. All work that is done from a place of selflessness and compassion is good work. All giving that comes from a place of gratitude and love is good giving. I’m not in any way suggesting that we remove the compassion, care, and concern that are at the heart of the non-profit community.
Look for the Mystery, Miracles and Moments of Grace
But if you want to be sure you’re making a difference, you have to take it a step further. We absolutely cannot and will not make progress on addressing our social ills if we don’t know that what we’re doing has lasting impact.
The mission may sound wonderful, the people may be compassionate and committed, the work they do may be important. But if it’s not effective, if it’s not moving the needle, then it’s time to assist them in their efforts to improve or look elsewhere for organizations to support.
We can’t keep spinning our wheels. We need solutions and you are part of the solution!
You are part of the solution!
Ultimately, your goal is to identify the result you hope to achieve through your giving, locate the organizations who are doing it most effectively, and lend your support through time, talent, and treasure.
This is philanthropy at its best. This is impact!