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A Guide to High-Impact Philanthropy

At SureImpact, we have long championed the pursuit of nonprofits to become impact-centric.

It’s in our name, after all.

That’s why we were so excited to see the release of the 2024 High Impact Philanthropy Toolkit from the Center for High Impact Philanthropy. It provides guidance to help donors practice high impact philanthropy - using private philanthropic resources intentionally to create positive social impact.

The toolkit defines high impact philanthropy as having four key elements: 

  1. Focusing on achieving a specific social impact goal

  2. Making decisions based on the best available evidence from research, expert opinion, and field experience

  3. Linking impact and cost to identify opportunities with the highest "bang for buck"

  4. Assessing results, learning, and improving over time

The toolkit also outlines four main "philanthropic plays" that donors can fund across any cause area to create impact: 

  1. Direct services that address immediate needs

  2. Capacity building of systems and organizations

  3. Policy and advocacy efforts

  4. Research and innovation

Needless to say, this toolkit is music to our ears. 

Not only does the toolkit offer this guidance, but it also provides nine examples of nonprofits illustrating each play; each that the Center's team has vetted for evidence of impact and cost-effectiveness working across areas like education, economic opportunity, housing, health, and climate resilience. These include organizations like Build Up Nepal, Capital Good Fund, Healthy Learners, and ParentChild+.

Throughout, the toolkit emphasizes using rigorous evidence, data, and analysis to identify and support the most promising nonprofit programs and solutions. But it also highlights the importance of combining that analysis with listening to beneficiary voices and amplifying proximal leaders embedded in the communities being served. The goal is to help donors maximize their philanthropic impact across any giving priority.

By emphasizing the importance of evidence, data, and impact measurement as criteria donors should use to identify impactful giving opportunities, the guide underscores the need for nonprofits to be able to credibly communicate their impact through evidence and analysis.

Here's a summary of the outputs or results described for each nonprofit example in the document:

  • Has distributed over 500,000 solar and fuel-efficient cookstoves

  • Estimates its cookstoves have saved over 3 million tons of wood and prevented 3 million tons of CO2 emissions

  • Has planted 750,000 trees restoring 220 hectares of forest

  • Directly employs 250 people and has trained 233 independent resellers

  • Has trained 306 micro-enterprises to build 8,120 resilient houses

  • Has created 3,170 jobs, over 90% held by youth, women, and formerly poor

  • Entrepreneur enterprises build ~15 houses and create 10-12 jobs per year on average

  • Has saved over 74,227 tons of CO2 emissions

  • 97% overall loan repayment rate

  • Able to forgive up to 30% of loans to take on riskier borrowers

  • Estimates loans save clients $500-$4,000 compared to predatory alternatives

  • Financial coaching program improved credit scores by 90 points on average

Genesys Works:

  • Has served over 11,000 students

  • 93% of recent graduates enrolled in college, compared to 49% of low-income peers

  • 54% of alumni complete 4-year degree in 6 years, compared to 18.5% of peers

  • Alumni median earnings of $60,000 after 7 years

  • Has served over 830,000 students (25% of Zambia's public primary students)

  • Increased vitamin A supplementation by 47% and deworming by 48% compared to control

  • Saw 60% reduction in schistosomiasis in one township

  • Households 44% less likely to be evicted than control group

  • Households paid back rent 23% faster than control group

  • 87% maintained Boston Housing Authority housing, 95% avoided eviction

  • Serving over 2 million students in 3,000 schools

  • Showed 5-15% reductions in absenteeism at partner schools

  • 96% of school partners renew program after initial term

  • Serving over 70,000 families across 17 U.S. states and 6 countries

  • Graduates 84% high school rate, equal to middle-class peers

  • Model reduced need for special education services by 50% in one study

  • Improved English language scores and kindergarten readiness

  • Supports 90+ organizations serving homeless youth

  • 85% of rapid re-housing participants felt safe after 12 months

  • 50% of rapid re-housing participants had full-time jobs after 12 months

The outputs cover a range of quantitative metrics around participants served, services delivered, outcomes achieved, jobs/income generated, and environmental impact among others.

This of course requires the nonprofit to have systems to track and measure its impact on its beneficiaries.

At the end of the day, software is key to making data tracking way easier. Once you've figured out what you want to measure, you need a solid plan to put tools in place that'll automate all your data collection and reporting.

Tech isn’t meant to replace people; it just makes your team more efficient and lets you expand how many folks in the community you can help with your highest level of services. The right tools help you get the most out of your team without overworking them into burnout territory.

One of the biggest headaches nonprofits deal with is lack of centralization and consistency. Your operations are often scattered, with info coming from all over - frontline staff, consultants, people in the field, contractors, you name it. It gets chaotic fast. Another issue is just not having visibility across all your different programs.

If you're using paper forms and Excel to track everything, it's really tough to provide that person-centered care hitting all of someone's needs. You just can't see what's happening across the whole organization easily. Tech streamlines all data collection, reporting, and compliance requirements so your programs run smoothly. If something's off with a program, everyone can access the same data and collaborate without hassle. And when it's impact assessment time, you don't want that info scattered all over.

Tech also simplifies all the reporting requirements and builds more trust with funders and stakeholders. With so much pressure to show your effectiveness these days, tech is a must-have. When a funder wants project info, you can get it to them lightning fast.

The right tech solves these problems. Data for every single program living in one place, dashboards giving you quick insights into how the organization is performing overall.

If you’re interested in getting started, here are three key types of data you need to collect to measure your impact:

  1. Who you're serving (Demographics)

  2. What you're doing for them (Outputs/Activities)

  3. How they're better off as a result (Outcomes)

Let’s take a look at each:

Who You're Serving

A lot of people think nonprofits are totally different from for-profit businesses. While the overall goals are different, understanding your audience is still important. Ask yourself questions like:

  • Who are the individuals that need your services most?

  • Can you effectively communicate the needs of those you serve?

  • Are your programs reaching the intended participants?

  • Are you delivering equitable outcomes across different groups?

  • If not, is there an opportunity to develop better interventions?

Some key demographic data points to collect include age, gender identity, race/ethnicity, household size, income, employment status, education level, and zip code.

How You're Serving Them

Output metrics track the specifics and volume of the work - things like how many meals served, hours of services provided, or money spent on housing families. These metrics show where your time and resources are going. Your organization likely already tracks outputs regularly, even if not called that.

How They're Better Off

Outputs are important, but don't tell the full story of how you're improving lives. Impact-focused organizations look beyond just outputs to also measure outcomes - the actual positive changes.

It may seem daunting, but every organization can measure and communicate impact. A common myth is that impact equals the services provided - but those are just outputs. When funders ask about impact, they really want to know the outcomes - how people's lives improved thanks to the investment.

As more and more publications, webinars, talks and podcasts like this toolkit are released, there will be an increased awareness on donors to look for impact reporting as they invest their philanthropic dollars.

The organizations who understand this will be best poised to receive those investments. Don’t get left behind!

For more information, check out our free eBook: The Ultimate Guide to Impact Measurement.


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