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Philanthropy’s role in driving lasting social change

This post originally appeared as a guest post for Philanthropy Ohio.


Foundations and other funders are a driving force for system-wide social change. As philanthropists, we support mission-driven organizations in their efforts to change lives. In many cases, philanthropic funding is the lifeblood of these crucial community benefit organizations. Therefore, the requirements we set for these organizations to receive funding for their programs drives social sector behavior. Over the past 20 years working with government funders, foundations and nonprofits, I’ve witnessed the power funders have to influence grantees’ organizational and mission outcomes. If we truly desire to create happy, healthy communities where all people thrive, it’s not enough for foundations to only ask for nonprofits to report outputs and anecdotal stories. What we focus on grows. If we truly want to see radical transformations in the social causes we fund (i.e., social justice, generational poverty, infant mortality, etc.), we need to promote high-performance measurement practices that enable grantees to demonstrate and manage to quantifiable impact.


My research, highlighted in Impact & Excellence, demonstrated that nonprofits whose funders establish shared measurement practices experienced greater sustainability and impact. Yet, most of the sector lacked the appropriate tools specifically designed for their ecosystem to maximize the impact of investments into the social sector. Therefore, after years of testing with sector leaders, I launched SureImpact, a shared data collection and reporting software that enables foundations to align your entire network with your desired outcomes, while at the same time increasing the measurement capacity of your grantees. By implementing the same mechanisms to track and report outcomes and measure participant needs across all of the organizations in your network, foundations can more easily understand what works best for the network as a whole. These insights are required for scaling programs and services to create system-wide social change. Here are three important roles foundations should play – and SureImpact facilitates – to drive success in the social-good sector.


1. Increase Grantee Capacity

Foundations are in a unique position to help build the measurement capacity of grantees. In the social-good sector, direct service providers are in the business of realizing long-term social change. In order to accomplish their mission, they must have the financial resources to be sustainable. A shared measurement infrastructure enables grantees to track how they are improving outcomes for their clients while also demonstrating their success and how they align with the mission of their funders. In addition, grantees receive access to insights that enable them to identify areas of potential program improvement. In a nutshell, grantees can do more with your dollars, increasing your overall impact and social return on investment.


2. Align Network with Desired Outcomes

A shared measurement infrastructure gives foundations the ability to influence the focus of grantees. Foundations can define desired outcome measures and then require grantees to track and measure progress towards achieving those specific outcomes. For example, a foundation with the mission to create stable and thriving families may choose to use some or all of the Arizona Self-Sufficiency Matrix to measure client progress towards achieving stability in areas such as income, employment, housing, food, family relations and parenting skills. A foundation can require all grantees to track the same outcomes, thereby increasing the quality of data collection and enabling the foundation to understand what interventions cause the greatest system-wide impact. In addition, you can cross-compare grantee performance to determine which organizations are driving the most change so you can determine where to invest your funds in the future.


3. Enable Longitudinal Outcome Tracking

A shared measurement infrastructure enables foundations and grantees to track client and program outcomes over time (longitudinally). With these systems, foundations will know the services that individuals have accessed, the outcomes as a result of receiving these services and how population outcomes improve over time. As grantees measure the participant outcomes over time and share this data with their funders, foundations will understand how investments are moving the needle now while also predicting future success with higher accuracy.


Conclusion

Our society faces many pressing social issues. Foundations have an important opportunity to influence the efforts to create system-wide social change. To maximize the amount of impact to the community, foundations must establish shared measurement with grantees. A shared data collection and reporting infrastructure enables you to align your network with your desired outcomes, while at the same time increasing the measurement capacity of your grantees. This continuous loop of innovation increases the effectiveness and efficiency of the interventions of your entire grantee network and increases your social return on investment. It’s a win-win for everyone.


If you’d like to learn more about getting started with impact measurement and about SureImpact, I invite you to view a free, on-demand webinar called “Back to the Basics: Measuring Impact.”


Sheri Chaney Jones

President, SureImpact and Measurement Resources Company

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