Demonstrating the impact of your organization is one of the most important aspects of communicating with donors. Donors need to know that they are making a difference, and for them to donate to your organization it’s crucial that they can do that through you.
That’s not to say that demonstrating impact is always easy. For some organizations, particularly those who might provide infrastructure support to others, or for organizations where getting that impact might take a long time (advocacy and policy-focused organizations, for example), the difference that you make, at least in the short-term, might not be immediately evident.
So a few questions that I often ask in order to flush out the impact that an organization is having are: “What if you didn’t exist? What would happen as a result? And who would care?”
To this question, I’ve had a wide range of responses. Often these responses are very powerful. For some organizations, their ceasing to exist, or to not be there in the first place, can literally mean the difference between life and death. It was clear that without their intervention, people would suffer: children won’t get fed, young people would end up homeless or women would die in childbirth.
Sometimes, however, even the people within the organization aren’t even convinced about the organization’s impact on the communities that they seek to support. Comments I’ve heard along these lines, even from Board members and staff, have included: “if we didn’t exist, nothing would change”, or “if we went away, someone else would fill in the gap”.
In some cases, the answers were valid. The impact of the organizations were truly questionable. This of course highlights a very serious need to revisit the organization’s overall vision, mission and goals. In most cases, however, the issue is less about impact than it was about the organization’s ability to demonstrate it, even to their staff and Board.
So what do you do if you are in this situation? If you are struggling to demonstrate impact, here are a few suggestions on how to begin to re-discover your importance to the communities that you serve.
Research the need. You may feel that you know what the need for your organization is, but perhaps have trouble proving it, or even just articulating it. So do your research. Maybe others in similar fields have gathered their own evidence that proves that your methodology can change the world. What can you learn from other organizations about the need or the impact of certain approaches? What about their storytelling? Are they finding a way to talk about the need for programs like yours that inspire you? Can you find that inspiration from the stories coming out of your own organization?
Talk to your beneficiaries. Find out how they feel about the services that you provide to them. You might be surprised at what you discover. Sometimes the impact might not be obvious and may be much further-reaching than you anticipated. Use this knowledge to develop some monitoring and evaluation processes that can be adopted across your organization to capture evidence of your results. As highlighted above, use this opportunity to collect stories that demonstrate to donors that without your intervention, the people that you are set up to serve would suffer.
Go back to why you were established in the first place. Presumably, it was to address a serious need. Does that reason still hold today? If so, is it a question of your impact measurement being poor, your results not being communicated properly or does your methodology need to change to meet the needs of an evolving, or evolved world?
Find the passion within yourself. We typically get involved in organizations because we heard or saw something that moved or inspired us. Go back to the beginning of your involvement and ask yourself, what was the first story that moved you, enraged you or compelled to you act? As we get caught up in the day to day of working within and for our organizations, we can easily forget our own passion and reason for involvement. If you can capture this passion, from within yourself and by asking others the same question, you can start to re-discover your impact and start to act on it.
“Someone else will fill the gap”. Even if this response is appropriate for your organization, this doesn’t necessarily mean that you don’t have an impact, it just means that you aren’t the only ones having one. Even if other organizations are doing something similar, you are still making a difference to the communities that you work with. The key is in articulating how you may be doing things differently, or better, or how you complement other services offered. With powerful stories, strong impact measurement and excellent communications, you can really help your organization to stand out.
Working to put yourself out of business. Nothing demonstrates impact more than making such a difference that the organization no longer needs to exist. In simple terms, this means that you will have achieved your vision, which pretty much every donor, is looking to help you achieve. With concerns in the industry around donor fatigue, as well as a fear often expressed in donor circles around funding a bottomless pit of need, the more an organization can demonstrate how it is successfully working toward the achievement of their vision, the more attractive it will be to donors.
Ultimately, people give to make a difference. A real, permanent difference. By having in place a strategic plan, where your activities are tied to the achievement of measurable goals, that are directly linked to your vision, then you can inspire donors to join you on this amazing journey to make the world a better place.