Tuesday, November 17, 2009

The Meaning of Social Impact

Some of you may be surprised to know that I have a full time job. And no, my full time job is not blogging (though I wish it were). During the day, I work in the field of grantmaking for after school programs just outside of Washington, D.C. Part of my job entails selecting non profit organizations to fund, and, monitoring them to ensure that they are fulfilling their goals and objectives.

One aspect I particularly like about grantmaking is meeting passionate people, who have started organizations to serve their community. Often, these programs are small and volunteer driven, arisen out of a desire to fill a pressing need. In my opinion and from my experience, these “grassroots” organizations have a greater impact in a community than larger, well established organizations. But, what they lack in terms of evaluating their social impact is often their downfall, especially when they try to obtain funding.

Each month, the Nonprofit Millennial Bloggers Alliance highlights a topic for discussion - and the feature for the month is, “How do you define and measure social impact?”

My definition of social impact refers to the ability of an organization to successfully fulfill its goals and objectives that benefits the community. Seems simple right? Not so much. What I’ve been finding is that many grassroots organizations don’t have the knowledge, manpower or funding to adequately measure their social impact. And, some don’t grasp the value of measuring it. Yes, it’s great that you took 50 kids to a basketball game to meet a local athlete, and yes, it’s wonderful that you held a discussion and workshop on self esteem, but then what? What are you doing to measure your impact afterwards?

So consider this example: You receive two glossy brochures in the mail. One has cheery photos of program activities. The other brochure has the same photos, but also states, “Over ninety percent of youth participating in our program have advanced to the next grade level.” Which program would you give your money to?

In today’s economic climate, it’s important that non profits measure their social impact to obtain and maintain funding. But this can cost money, which many organizations may not have. I know I have many readers who work in the non profit field serving youth, so here's one suggestion: Check out the Colorado Trust for their Afterschool Toolkit for Evaluating Positive Youth Development. You can use this publication to create your own pre and post surveys. Best of all, it's researched based and FREE! And to my funder friends, consider providing funds to help smaller non profit organizations build their capacity by paying expenses for an evaluation consultant, professional development training, attendance at conferences, and board development.

Learn more by visiting here for a list of the non profit bloggers participating in the Alliance for their take on this important topic.


Elisa said...

Exactly! The cost is so often a limitation to the small nonprofits. Over 93% of nonprofits have budgets of under $25,000 a year which really precludes doing much beyond the bare minimum.

Is your foundation able to provide some money for these nonprofits to do some evaluation work?

Thanks for the post!

Tracey said...

Hi Elisa! Thanks for the comment!
Yes, my group the Black Benefactors will provide funds for evaluation work.

Blank said...

Thank you Tracey for calling attention to this very important topic! I totally agree with your assessment and think your advice is extremely valuable for both grantmakers and grantseekers.