ARTICLE: Three Ways to Get Started Measuring Your Impact Today

December 18, 2018 Alexis Fish

Forward thinking foundations not only report numbers, but also report the impact of those numbers. Collecting and analyzing data that enables you to understand the impact of your grant can seem daunting. Many organizations fall into the trap of collecting lots of data, but not meaningful data. There are three actions you can take today to start measuring impact more effectively.

Get Clear About Your Goals

To get clear about your goals, make sure they align with your organization’s founding principles and with those goals important to your community. Your goals are going to fall into a few big buckets; your overall impact goals, your reporting goals, and your future giving goals.  

  • Overall impact goals are the big picture. Examples of impact goals are food security, education for all, and women’s empowerment. These big picture goals will help you set the stage for creating specific bench marks against the long-term goals.
  • Reporting goals are going to help you decide how you want to use the data. Do you have a goal of producing an annual results report, or are you going to share your data across the industry? When looking at your reporting goals it is important to review what measures are being used across the industry to ensure an apples to apples comparison.
  • Future giving goals use data to inform your grantmaking, including budget considerations, multi-year grants and even staffing.

All goals should help you define the impact that you are trying to make with your investments, including the outcomes or changes of behavior that would occur for those being served.

Budget for Impact Measurement.

Designing, implementing and analyzing an impact oriented philanthropic portfolio takes time. Be prepared to invest in impact measurement. Define what investments make sense for your organization.  Time, money and resources are all scarce and need to be optimally allocated. Key questions to think about as you budget your time include:

  • Are you going to do the discovery and create your measures in-house, hire a consultant, or train your current staff?
  • Are you going to use new technology to measure goals throughout the grant life cycle or are you going to go through an optimization?
  • Are you going to invest in measurement tools for the nonprofits, perhaps funding grants that enable the nonprofit organizations to hire a consulting firm, or train their staff, or purchase new technology?

Like anything the more time and energy you put into the start of the project the more you will get out of it at the end.

Set Your Timeframe.

Your grant timeframe, your outcomes timeframe, and your impact timeframe are each distinct.

  • When it comes to your grant timeframe you many need to plan for at least a 24-month grant cycle to make sure you capture enough data to inform your choices. Longer grant cycles with regular check-ins enable the funder and nonprofit to partner on a deeper level, but still leave room for flexibility to reevaluate the partnership if it no longer makes sense for both groups.
  • As you plan your outcomes timeframe you want to set clear expectations. Make sure your timeframe is relevant to your program.  A five year, $200-million giving initiative to impact five key areas is a fantastic timeframe for outcomes monitoring. At the same time, the outcomes goal of ensuring children enter kindergarten ready to succeed is also a wonderful example of giving towards impact even though it obviously has a very different timeframe than our first example. This comparison demonstrates why it is important to set timeframe expectations that make sense for your giving goals.
  • Your impact timeframe is the longest timeframe. Depending on the desired impact your organization wishes to achieve, you may, or may not, see that impact in your lifetime. Regardless, it is important to still go ahead and set your timeframe, even if it’s many, many, many years from now. Use your long-term timeframe to help you get truly clear on your goals.

In conclusion, use these three goals as an action-oriented exercise to get started measuring impact today. You don’t have to answer all three in the order listed here. Each goal will affect the other and each goal should serve as the starting point for consistent discussion.

Are you ready to learn more about impact measurement tools available from Blackbaud? Contact Alexis Fish 

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