In the Community
The Fundamental Question: So What?June 30, 2014
For at least twenty years, the nonprofit sector has struggled with the concept of measuring outcomes. Gone are the days when the sector can just “do good things” and expect to find support among volunteers, donors, and funders.
More and more, potential supporters are asking for measurable outcomes, not just the outputs that have traditionally been reported.
The difference between the two is significant. Measuring outputs is measuring activities. We delivered 5,000 pounds of potatoes. We served 300 bowls of soup. We tutored 150 students.
If you want to get to outcomes, the change that you hope will happen as a result of your intervention, you need to ask the Fundamental Question: “So what?”
For example, if the real answer to the Fundamental Question is “One hundred people became more dependent on us for food last year,” instead of “We helped 100 people become less food insecure,” then we know that some change in program needs to be made and perhaps other nonprofit partners should be sought to help address the issue in tandem. Are students’ grades or test scores improving through the tutoring we provide? By what percentage? Are fewer students dropping out? Have anti-social behaviors improved? By what measure? Unless we measure the right things, we won’t know how to improve the work and have more impact on the issues at hand. Asking the Fundamental Question, and measuring the actual impact, instead of the activities we undertake, can help to get us there.
Who cares, anyway?
Nonprofit boards need to care because it gets to the mission and purpose of the organization, and whether or not real value is being created.
Donors and volunteers need to care because it gets to the core of their investments of dollars and time.
Foundations and other funders need to care because it impacts their own outcomes and their value as funders.
Even government needs to care – and it does. Government is concerned about whether the investment that is made through direct grants and also through tax incentives is worth the “loss” of these monies in funding government itself as well as other priorities.
It is time that the nonprofit sector takes seriously the concept of measuring impact. Many funders, like the Community Foundation of the Lowcountry, are becoming more concerned about grant applicants having considered true expected outcomes in the application process, and then reporting back to us about how well they did in reaching their goals at the end of the grant. We realize that not every project we fund will be successful. But we believe that the learnings gained by the grantee in how to improve their programs and gained by the Community Foundation in how to continue to refine and advance our grantmaking are well worth the effort.
So what? An educated approach to giving makes living generously much more effective and impactful, more lives improved, and a better community for all.