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Why Data-Driven Impact Stories are the Secret to Increased Funding and Donor Engagement

SureImpact CEO Sheri Chaney Jones was recently interviewed on the Nonprofit Exchange podcast. Listen to the full interview here.

Often nonprofit leaders view impact measurement as a nuisance. But the reality is that money has ears. If we want to get funders, we have to measure and share our impact so that funders know the impact of their investment. Sometimes nonprofit leaders push back and insist they want to help people, not spend our time crunching numbers. But telling the story of the difference we are making is an essential part of what nonprofit leaders do to increase our impact.

So where do we get started with measuring impact?

The majority of nonprofit leaders did not go into the nonprofit sector because we loved math, statistics, data, and numbers. We went into nonprofit work because we have a passion for our missions. But we need to measure impact because research shows that organizations who are able to tell their story with data are able to improve how they’re changing lives and circumstances and raise more money.

We need to think about measuring impact as a means to an end. It’s not about data for data’s sake or numbers for numbers’ sake. We’re doing this for two reasons. One, it’s because it will help us raise more money for our mission. No money, no mission. Secondly, it will ensure that we’re actually creating the change in lives and circumstances that we desire.

To get started with impact measurement, we need to ask ourselves the following questions:

  • Why does our organization do what it does?

  • Why do our funders invest in us?

  • Why do our participants want to work with us?

Once we have determined the answers to these questions, we know what we need to measure. The “whys” are our impact. For example, in the case of a government juvenile justice program, our whys could look like this:

  • Our organization’s whys – Keep kids out of the juvenile justice system.

  • Our funder’s whys – Be good stewards of taxpayer dollars.

  • Our participants’ whys – Feel loved and accepted and have their social needs met.

So now that we know what to measure, we need to measure it. It sounds simple, but a lot of organizations aren’t quite sure about the data, so we make it up. That’s why we need verifiable data. Once we have the data, we can use it to create our impact story.

How do we create an impact story that’s going to make a difference in how funders and stakeholders perceive our work?

We need three sources of data to tell an impactful story. We need to be able to talk about who we serve, how well we served them, and how individuals and communities are better off as a result. “Who we serve” is about outputs. The second point – how well we served them – has to do with quality metrics. This is related to how participant needs are being met (i.e. timeliness, cultural responsibility, client experience, etc.) The third type of data is about how individuals and communities are better off. These are our outcomes and impact data. For example, did we increase financial stability? Or did our participants increase their social and emotional skills?

Once we know who we served, how well we served them, and how they are better off, we can put together a very powerful impact story.

Who is responsible for having the data required for a powerful impact story?

Impact measurement is a team sport that requires all members of our team to do their part. In a nutshell, impact measurement shows the reason our organization exists. The line staff collect the data as they work with clients. They also consume the data to guide how they serve clients and how clients are progressing. The leadership and development teams consume the data to make decisions, communicate to our boards, and engage with funders. But the program managers or the directors of programming are going to use impact measurement to improve operations and to hold staff accountable. That’s what’s so fun about impact measurement; each person in an organization has a different need for using this data to improve their work. And once we have the data, we can analyze it to tell our impact story.

What are some tips to keep in mind when creating our impact story for fundraising efforts?

Remember when we asked ourselves why our funders invest in us? We need to address this “why” with our impact story. Different funders have different reasons for investing. For example, a government funder is interested in saving taxpayer dollars, whereas a faith-based funder may be more interested in increasing engagement in church activities, or some other community engagement metric. We need to understand what is important to our funder and then focus on it when we create our impact story. It’s all the same data, but we are going to pull different data and craft a different data-driven story based on who we are talking to.

We also need to make sure that we are pursuing funding opportunities that are aligned with our organization’s “whys.” For example, if we run an arts organization, it doesn’t make sense to pursue a funding opportunity from a funder who is specifically focused on housing stability. Our “whys” and their “whys” just don’t align.

How do we inspire our teams and make impact measurement easier for them?

Impact measurement is critical for long-term sustainability, but we need to recognize that fear always accompanies organizational and program change. And when we add new impact measures, that adds another level of accountability that also creates fear. When we start moving towards having an impact-centric culture, we need to have a change management process in place to help with the transition.

We also need to understand that as the leaders, we are the ones initiating this change. We have to be the champions for creating the new culture. We may not want to use the word “fear,” but we can say something like “I understand that measuring this type of information is new to us as an organization. It’s important because we will be using this data for continuous improvement, continuous learning, and gaining new funding so we can serve more people.”

If we want to have data-driven impact stories to increase our funding and strengthen our organizations, we need to start today. Our funders want to know our impact, and there is a solution available to automate and simplify the process for collecting and reporting on impact data.

SureImpact provides the data collection and impact reporting infrastructure to meet the unique needs of social-good organizations as we work to achieve our organization’s mission. SureImpact’s simple and collaborative case management and outcome tracking tools are designed to help manage, measure, and communicate our social impact. This ensures we have impact data available in real time for grant applications, strategic planning, and stakeholder communication, without the burden of doing everything manually.

Check out our SureImpact quick product tour to learn more.


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