Start by Asking ‘Why?’
Nonprofit leaders are constantly hearing about how important impact and outcomes are to funders. Articles with titles like, “Study: A Nonprofit’s Impact Is the Most Significant Consideration to Funders,” and “Why Outcomes, Not Output, Is the Key to Nonprofit Sustainability,” are everywhere. But taking the time to look closely at and really think about your organization’s outcomes can have a much deeper impact on the way you approach your mission than simple tracking and reporting data.
When you go through the process of rethinking your outcomes for fundraising, sometimes it makes you rethink why you’re doing what you’re doing in the first place. For example, I recently spoke at the Domestic Violence and Homeless Services Community Connections conference in Los Angeles. While doing a training session on “Funding Your Outcomes for Housing,” this interesting exchange occurred:
Me: Who runs an emergency shelter?
Audience: [Nearly all hands go up.]
Audience: [Stunned looks throughout the room.]
Woman 1: To help them escape.
Me: Then what? What happens because of the escape? After all, escaping is a step, not an outcome. What does she want to have happen because she escaped?
Woman 2: She has safe shelter.
Me: And? Can she live there forever?
Audience: [More stunned looks.]
Me: Funders, investors, want to know how her life has changed permanently, because she worked with your agency. If your goal is to help her out of the abusive relationship, what does that look like a year later for her? Do you track how many women are safe one year later? Anyone?
Audience: [No hands go up.]
Woman 2: We want her to be safe long-term, but we can't track that.
Woman 3 (who runs a homeless shelter): How about permanent safe shelter? That's what we want for our residents.
Woman 1: I'd never thought of it that way.
Me: Imagine how much more effective your services would be if you had as the stated outcome of all you do, a safe, stable home, instead of merely escape.
Woman 1: We would do everything differently.
Precisely. It's time for that change.
Carol Wick is partner at Convergent Nonprofit Solutions. She started her career working with at-risk children and quickly gained national attention of her ability to create and implement innovative and sustainable solutions to century old problems. Over the years, she has developed a proven method that can be applied to any organization to help them grow, build their brand, and attract and retain investors. She has more 20 years of executive director experience and is the published author of several evidence-based studies on program effectiveness. Carol utilizes this wealth of experience to assist nonprofit organizations assess their capacity and take their organization to the next level.