How Nonprofits Can Meaningfully Prove Impact
In our work with social impact organizations, we guide them in creating impact stories that marry metrics with emotional storytelling for maximum power. In broad strokes, organizations that want to do this must:
Measure impact in the right ways.
Go beyond grant requirements to tell a bigger, more cohesive story of your organization’s impact. Depending on the kind of work you do, this could mean connecting big-picture ideas to individual impact (such as translating a reduction in carbon emissions to a specific number of trees saved). Or, it could mean connecting stories of individuals who have benefited from your work (such as adults who have learned to read in an adult literacy program) to a larger community impact (access to better jobs, reduced rates of homelessness, and so on). Metrics can also be used to show human connection levels and engagement so that the people you are communicating with understand how you build and maintain a community. We used this exact tactic in our work with The Santa Cruz Museum of Art & History. We’re pretty sure no grant has ever required its recipients to document the number of hugs between strangers.
Use the data to tell emotionally driven, human-centered stories.
Many organizations make the mistake of crafting a proof of impact message that is comprised of insider-speak. In other words, it’s written in a way that will likely resonate with other nonprofit leaders and experts within their particular area of specialization. If your proof of impact requires a master’s degree to understand, you aren’t telling it in a way that will connect with your actual supporters. For example, we worked with the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute to produce a digital annual report that includes a host of compelling impact data but looks and reads like a special edition of National Geographic.
Weave those stories throughout their communications materials.
Proof of impact should be woven throughout your organization's marketing and communications programs. This includes your:
Update their proof of impact as the scope or breadth of their efforts change.
Organizations that pivot or organically increase the scope or breadth of their efforts must remember to provide proof of impact that reflects their current goals and activities. When proof of impact doesn’t align with your organization's current initiatives or broader focus, your audience is left to wonder what your organization is actually about. Likewise, if your organization has long devoted itself to a particular issue, your proof of impact can highlight this long-term commitment. That’s exactly what we did in our work with The Lakota People’s Law Project (particularly the timeline of milestones).