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Tackling the “impact question”

By Jennifer Shen 

How many times have you heard the word “impact” or “outcomes” this week? We’re betting quite a few — we’d even say they’re buzzwords of the year.

In fact, at the recent 2015 Green Hasson Janks Nonprofit Conference, the discussion touched on these themes. We heard, “data is king […,] you need to measure results and understand your true costs […,] create case studies that highlight impact […,] and exceptional leaders are always looking 3-5 years out. Yup, though Panelists Fred AliRegina BirdsellPegine Graysonand Scott Pansky were addressing different issues like leadership, marketing and volunteerism, we heard all their observations as related to creating exceptional impact.

These themes are centered on a critical question that still begs to be answered: so what? Or put less provocatively: What is the specific impact your organization seeks? And how does what you do create that impact?

We believe a different approach is necessary to operate in today’s outcomes-focused world. One that aligns your intentions with what you do and the results of your efforts. Here are three tidbits to get you started:

impact, biz model, and learning are linked

Your impact, business model, and evaluation can and should be linked

1) Start with the end in mind. Creating social change is complex and takes a long time. Start by focusing on what you want your outcome to be over the long term, then develop your strategies to achieve that impact, rather than taking a quick-fix approach to answering “the impact question” on your latest grant report.

2) Link your strategy for impact, your business model, and your learning and evaluation efforts (see visual to the right). This link creates alignment and integration — you don’t have to separate the work of creating social change from figuring out whether or not that work is indeed making an impact. These elements are and should be mutually reinforcing.

3) Develop a common language. We need a shared language and reasonable expectations for funders and nonprofits to talk about output, outcomes and impact. Our current system incentivizes short-term thinking, and expectations around impact are often unrealistic. By creating opportunities for communication on this topic with both funders and nonprofits, we can begin a conversation that will create a more honest and effective social sector.

If you’re interested in taking this approach at your organization, take the next step by attending our upcoming workshop, “What You Need to Know about Outcomes as a Nonprofit Leader,” on October 23rd at First 5 LA’s downtown offices. Register now as space is limited, and learn more on our webpage.      


About Green Hasson Janks

Green Hasson Janks is one of the premier accounting firms serving nonprofits in Southern California. We have over 30 years of experience serving public charities and private foundations, and we are well-versed on current nonprofit benchmarking and governance issues. We offer our nonprofit clients a wide range of professional services including accounting, auditing, management consulting and tax planning and compliance.

Thank you to Donella Wilson and Green Hasson Janks for sharing this post on their blog!