The philanthropy sector is a big business, and it’s only getting bigger. With buzzwords like corporate social responsibility, social impact and sustainable giving floating around the internet and conferences around the world, it’s past time to start taking your philanthropy work seriously.
One of the biggest themes in today’s philanthropy industry has been the importance of measuring impact.
- How well are you actually making the change you claim to make?
- If you are working to increase childhood literacy in a community, where are you at in the process?
- How many children have you helped?
- Where are they now?
Is your head spinning yet? It’s a lot to take in and it’s data that wasn’t always required before. In the past it was sometimes enough to donate to a widely known nonprofit organization or an athlete/team’s community initiative because it looked good and the name was reputable. That time is long gone. Nowadays, people are more hesitant to donate and give their hard earned dollars to nonprofits or causes without seeing measurable impact.
You need to be thinking about measuring and showing the impact that your initiatives are making from the very beginning. From strategic planning to implementation to evaluation, you need to be collecting data and evaluating the results.
Measuring Impact: Strategic Planning Phase
You can’t measure the impact of your work if you don’t have a strategic plan with benchmarks and goals in place. Let’s stick with the childhood literacy example. Imagine your mission is to achieve complete childhood literacy in all children under 10 in your city. Here are some questions you should be asking from the start:
- How many children are literate already? How many are not?
- Where are those children that need your programs located?
- How will you reach them?
- How much will it cost you to reach them?
- What programs will you implement to teach them to read?
- Who will you partner with (schools, after school programs, parents, community leaders) to make these programs happen?
- How much will these programs cost to implement?
- How long will you work with the children?
- What are the long term benefits of eliminating illiteracy in this community?
This is just a starting point, but you get the idea. You need to put together a strategic plan answering those questions and stating specific goals that highlight the who, what, where, when, why and how of your programming. Then, it’s time for implementation.
Measuring Impact: Implementation Phase
While you are implementing your literacy program, measure your progress at every step. Have the children take a pre-program survey to see what their reading level is and what they are struggling with. Talk to their parents and teachers, look at their report cards and their habits inside and outside of the classroom. Keep track of how much things are costing to run smoothly. Take notes, record data, repeat throughout every day of programming.
When the program is complete and the child graduates, give them a post-program survey to measure their improvement. Then talk to teachers, parents and the students themselves to see what they learned, what’s changed in their lives, etc. These personal quotes are valuable testimonials for your organization.
Measuring Impact: Evaluation Phase
In the evaluation phase, you pull all that data together and lay out your findings. What was the average percentage increase in reading levels for the children involved? Did all participants move from illiterate to literate? You need tangible data that shows improvements in these areas that matter.
While numbers are important, it’s also important to highlight personal stories and specific positive change to your prospective donors and partners. These people are interested in investing their time and money with your organization. They need to understand that the program is working and the numbers are positive, but also that the students are being positively impacted personally from the program as well.
Perhaps it’s a quote from a teacher about how a child went from uninterested to a top student, or a parent that says their child is reading more at home and acting out less. It could be a student who says they feel more confident going to school everyday. These are the stories you want to showcase to your donors and prove that you are making change.
Showing Off Your Hard Work
Many times organizations have the data but just aren’t sharing it the right way. Take those impact numbers and put them on your website. Add them to your social media. Send them out along with tax receipts and thank you notes to donors. Show your supporters how much you appreciate their time, money and efforts and prove to them they made the right decision!
Send out a press release about the progress made by the children in your programs. Pitch a story to your local news outlet to talk about the literacy problem in your community and why people should support your organization because you’re helping the community make a change.
The impact you make is the most valuable part of your organization. Those numbers and testimonials are what sell your organization to prospective donors, partners and sponsors. Don’t leave any resources on the table- measure your impact and share the results with the world!