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BWF Client Advisory – Measuring and Communicating Impact

Originally published February 11, 2015

Last week JPMorgan Chase announced that it will spend $10 million to evaluate the impact of its philanthropic giving. That’s only 1% of the $1 billion in philanthropic gifts it plans to make over the next five years, but it’s still a major investment.

The 2014 Giving in Numbers report found that in 2013, 76% of corporate giving departments measured the outcomes and/or impacts of their grants.

These stats signal an important trend in philanthropy: whether foundations, corporations, or individuals, today’s donors are interested in impact. What difference are their gifts making?
But measuring impact is a challenging task. According to the Nonprofit Finance Fund’s State of the Sector Report, nonprofits that don’t regularly collect impact data reported that their top 3 barriers to do so are:

  1. Insufficient staff or time.
  2. Difficulty measuring—many services or programs aren’t easily measured.
  3. Insufficient resources to outsource the collection.

Such challenges can be overwhelming, but successful nonprofits will find a way to adapt. Here are a few things to keep in mind as you work to demonstrate your organization’s impact.

  1. Know what success looks like. Have a clear definition for what you are trying to accomplish. What are your objectives? How will you know when you’ve been successful? Are your objectives quantifiable/measurable? Your organization’s mission statement is a good starting point here. From there, work backwards to determine what outcomes you are driving towards, how you will quantify/measure them, the outputs that lead to them, and the inputs that are instrumental in the process. (For a few examples of how leading organizations approach this topic, see this Harvard Business Review article).
  2. Allocate resources effectively. As the demand for impact reporting increases, you may need to add staff and systems to meet the need. In the last few years, many organizations have expanded their donor relations teams with the addition of skilled writers who can take complex data and present it in a way the lay person can understand. For example, writing about the impact of scientific/medical research requires the ability to work with the scientists or doctors conducting the research, understand the findings, and communicate them in a simple and compelling way.
  3. Tell your story.To effectively answer donors’ questions of what difference their gifts are making, remember the 3 S’s: Success, Statistics, and Story.

Success—Whether it’s a scholarship recipient, a breakthrough in medical research, or a community improved, demonstrate how your organization has accomplished its mission.

Statistics—Use the data you’ve collected to quantify that success wherever possible. How many lives were saved, meals delivered, scholarships granted, etc.? Sometimes, it might be difficult to quantify your results, so you may need to get the help of some creative thinkers. Gather select staff members, board members, or other volunteer leaders to help you think of the best ways to quantify your impact.

Story—Present your successes, supported by data, through the vehicle of a well-told story. Are there students, patients, faculty, or community members that represent the best of your efforts? Whether through a printed piece, or a video like the University of Sydney produced, allow those impacted to come through in a transparent and compelling way.

Most importantly, define your desired results in measurable outcomes before you seek and secure funding for your initiatives. If you can’t quantify your results, you’ll find it very challenging to address the issue of impact. 

Copyright © 2015 Bentz Whaley Flessner & Associates, Inc.

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