by Wendy Jeffries
Those of us trying to make a difference in the social sector are often asked to prove our organization’s value or to articulate the impact of what we do.
Many non-profits try to show their worth by throwing out lots of numbers and creating professional looking reports.
While this looks impressive and conveys how many people you have helped or all the great programs you are undertaking, does it really demonstrate your full impact? Too many times the answer is no.
So what is a better way?
Start by thinking about: “What is the story you want to tell?”
While many non-profits have perfected the art of picking a case example and writing a compelling vignette to articulate their work, this is just not enough anymore.
Yes, these examples elicit empathy and can stir people to action.
But, what do these examples say about the full reach and value of your work?
What I’m asking (because this is what the founders, board, and others will ask) is: “Tell me the whole story of how your work is creating a positive change for the people you are serving.”
Make it real by painting a picture for stakeholders who care but who are not part of your organization’s daily activities.
What do I mean?
Recently, I helped a program that educates elementary school children about the journey of food from farm to table.
They were asked by a potential funder, “How will you measure impact?” as part of a grant application.
The program staff understood that simply providing the number of kids and schools that participate or sharing student reflections and drawings from their trip to the farm wasn’t enough.
Through conversations guided by the question of “what story do you want to tell?”, they decided to explain how this program led students to make small behavioral changes. For example, how many students tried to make the recipe at home and how many students were willing to try a new vegetable.
Through this lens, the program illustrated how the immediate activities were enacting larger change and having a lasting effect on the students.
So what should you be asking yourself when you set out to demonstrate that your work is not just doing specific good but making a long-term difference?
Here are three questions to get you started:
- What is the story? – i.e., what is the convincing narrative that proves you are making a difference or creating positive change?
- What are the details of my story? – i.e., what evidence or data do I need in order to tell this story, and where can I get this information?
- What is the point of my story? – i.e., how is your work having an impact by improving outcomes for your clients, creating positive change in the community, etc.?
From what I’ve seen, organizations in the social sector that best illustrate their impact are those that combine a compelling narrative (“the story”) with cold, hard facts (“the evidence”).
As Jacob Harold, President and CEO of Guidestar, sums it up in a recent article, “….data is simply organized story telling.”
This week, think through these three questions to get started on your story.
Wendy Jeffries works with the non-profit and education sectors to improve programs and outcomes through the effective use of data