Who’s Responsible for Fostering Impact?

Creativity and input can come from both grantor and grantee

Instilling impact as a daily practice is part of what our small firm does for organizations.  Impact is the word of the decade for social change orgs.  We hear it incessantly, but we’re constantly taken aback at how many of us are paying mere lip service.  We sound like a broken record on the issue.

Several years ago I was consulting to a disability sports organization.  They had traditionally raised money based on one not particularly meaningful metric: number of people served.  The first question a funder should have asked was, so what?  How were they served?  What changed for them?  In short–that is a metric, but not an impact.

But no grantor ever asked.

So we did it ourselves. We sat down with management and staff and asked them what they thought.  People who worked hands on with participants believed that because of sports and fitness good things were happening with regard to education, health, and employment.  Questionnaires proved it.  This organization had fifteen years of data on high school graduation, college attendance, and unemployment that were flat unbelievable–through the roof.

From that point on, they focused on using metrics to prove real, sustained impacts.  Their fundraising doubled over the next five years, and the way they ran their programs changed because their focus was directly on those impacts.

But not once did a donor insist on more meaningful metrics or real impact assessment.  In this case, the impetus came from the grantee, the program managers.

The grant process doesn’t have to be a paper-work heavy bureaucratic nightmare–it can be a cooperative, creative opportunity for both sides of the desk to craft an approach to achieving the intended impacts.  We think it should be.



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