Measuring How We Measure Impact

In an increasingly data-driven world, nonprofits are feeling the pressure to quantitatively demonstrate their effectiveness, reach and impact. In tandem, donors are, more than ever, meticulously benchmarking and comparing nonprofits to see which align with their personal values and contribute in a way they feel is most impactful.

Tracking outcomes is essential for understanding long-term effectiveness of a given program or organization. However, there is still much to be said about providing an enriching human experience for an individual donor to understand how their dollars tangibly better the lives of beneficiaries. Development Officers need to create opportunities that provide for the sense of joy and gratitude a donor experiences through their involvement.

Take, for example, the action of a volunteer board member of the Vanderbilt YMCA. Last summer, this person noticed a little girl sitting on the curb in Manhattan's busy Diamond District while her mother worked nearby wearing a sandwich board. After looking into the situation and how hard the mom was working, the board member realized the daughter had nowhere else to go. This board member offered to help the family enroll the girl in Y Day Camp. The girl attended camp last summer and with the board member's continued support, she is taking part again this summer.

We can demonstrate that because of the girl's camp experience, she has significantly reduced her summer learning loss and is improving her socio-emotional learning. And these are important points. But even they only tell part of the story.

The full story is how this happenchance encounter has afforded a mother the opportunity to go to work every day knowing that her daughter is in a safe, secure, enriching and inspiring environment where she can make new friends and learn new skills. It also includes the sense of purpose that the board member experiences knowing that his gift is life-altering for this family. These experiences cannot be quantified by a chart or a graph, but their impact will be felt by the donor, mother and daughter for a lifetime.

Ultimately, the goal for the Development Officer is to ensure the ever-so delicate balance between impact metrics, compelling storytelling and connecting the donor to a cause.

Nonprofit organizations need to show impact through consistent and accurate data, while at the same time bridging the gap between their donors and beneficiaries to demonstrate the power of their collective efforts to change the lives of others. One of the most profound mistakes I have witnessed nonprofits make is to simply seek to receive a gift without making the donor part of the change process.

Keeping donors engaged can be achieved by bringing them to sites for in-person tours of operations, having beneficiaries share their stories at events, and telling individual stories of success through emails, newsletters, videos and other communication vehicles. Through humanizing our work, we give meaning to the mission we aim to accomplish every day.

By taking this approach to donor stewardship, the goal is not a gift acquisition - but rather, creating an understanding among donors about how their gift helps solve a problem and meet a need. This is a much better way to engage donors over the long-term and foster excitement for an organization's mission. When a nonprofit is able to demonstrate this to donors, both through figures and stories, it makes them friends of the organization for years to come.