Beyond Counting: Setting Yourself Up to Tell Your Impact Story

Effectively demonstrating the impact of your organization not only builds awareness of the good, hard work you’re doing; it also builds trust and partnership—with donors, patrons, and most importantly, staff. Whether someone is giving dollars to a cause, volunteering time or straddling work-life balance, he or she wants to feel like those contributions are making a difference.

Demonstrating impact should go far beyond counting numbers. Numbers can be concrete and easy to identify—How much percentage growth did you achieve in attendance? How many meals did you provide to families? What was the demographic make-up of your audience? However, numbers don’t tell the whole story. How did your program change attitudes? Did those that attended your trainings gain confidence? Do teachers describe your organization as a “life saver” or some other lofty phrase? Have lasting relationships formed among partner organizations, enabling you to exponentially do more together? Look for diverse indicators of success, using a balance of quantitative and qualitative measures to illustrate the unique value and accomplishments that your organization brings to your community.

As you mull over the possible measures, consider the stories that can be told—and how you can set yourself up to have the right elements to tell them. Do you already email surveys to ticket holders? Is there room for one more question whose colorful responses would enrich your story? Also, when you’re in the heat of a successful program, don’t forget to capture the moment. Take lots of pictures (even on your phone!). Try to identify attendees who would make great characters in your story. Before they leave, ask them if they’d be able to spare fifteen minutes on the phone or email to share their thoughts—or jot down their names to approach them about it later. Whenever you get a thank you note or email, file it! Take the time to scribble down your own impressions of what made the program successful—or what you learned in the process. While these might sound like obvious suggestions, it’s easy to gloss over this last step and then be left with vague, ordinary stories of impact when it’s time to sit down and write that grant report or plan your presentation to the board.

Choose a central place to keep these nuggets for easy reference—even a simple Word document will do the job. Take some time when you need a brain break to go through the program photos, quotes and other notes. Your fresh perspective and hindsight will allow you to reflect on the lasting impact, meanwhile giving you the warm-fuzzies on days when you need a boost. More importantly, it will help you be prepared with a concrete story of your organization’s impact on the fly, like those serendipitous elevator moments with a donor.

Numbers are important. They help us track growth, revenue, reach and return. But it’s the softer measures—those that show what actually happens at a program—that draw people in, building a vested interest in continuing their support. A little creative thinking and proactive planning will ensure that you have everything you need to tell a story that is a real page-turner!

Published by Ellen Spangler

Hi, I’m Ellen Spangler. With nearly twenty years in nonprofits, I’ve seen the good, the bad and the ugly. My first love will always be museums, but I have also cherished my work in education and membership organizations. I’ve worked as a Development Director, Communications Director, Educator, Trainer and Project Manager, and now own and operate a consulting business, Three Notch’d Nonprofit Solutions.

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