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Stop Showing Off and Start Showing Impact

The Plenty Team
August 26, 2016

As someone in the social good sector, my friends and family often ask for my opinion about organizations they’re considering supporting – whether it be through making a donation or fundraising. And you guessed it, people ask: “Will my donation really make a difference?”

While it’s nice to think that my network values my opinion on the causes they’re supporting, I’d argue that social good professionals field questions like these because most organization’s aren’t clearly articulating the impact that their work is having or if they are moving the needle in achieving their mission.

The result? Well-intentioned people are reluctant to donate or fundraise for the causes they care about.

We all know this: we’re living in a time in which we have more information at our fingertips than we could have imagined 20 years ago. We’re able to seek detailed, specific information and the opinions of the masses regarding every aspect our lives.

In this environment, it’s no surprise that donors and fundraisers aren’t settling for organizations simply claiming to have the solutions. Donors and fundraisers want to know:

  1. What those solutions are,
  2. Where they are being implemented, and
  3. If they’re making an impact

As a result, nonprofit boards and leadership are realizing the significance of and necessity to measure and communicate impact to all supporters, rather than just to institutional funders. It’s crucial that all organizations are fearlessly asking themselves: Are we making an impact on our mission? 


However, in recent years, “impact” has begun to resemble a buzzword in the nonprofit space. It’s found on every website and in every annual report. It’s splattered across email-asks and applauded when mentioned at the annual gala. The word ‘impact’, in mission- and cause-centered organizations, is everywhere. 

But if we’re going to work towards communicating and articulating it at this heightened level, it’s crucial then, that we understand that “impact” truly means. For a word so commonly tossed around, it suffers significant imprecision in it’s definition and use. Countless times I’ve seen impact mentioned on an organization’s website or in their appeals, but only a handful of organizations are using impact messaging to truly convey how they are moving the needle on their issue.

Don’t get me wrong: the work your organization is doing in your respective cause area is important. The funds raised, programs created, and events put on by your organization are indispensible. But let’s be clear: those things are not impact.

Impact isn’t the work your organization is doing. It’s how the world and people’s lives are different because of the work your organization is doing.

Impact isn’t the research grants your organization awards each year. Impact is the new drug that will transform the face of the disease you’re fighting, and how that new drug impacts the day to day life of patients.

Impact isn’t the innovative programs to combat global poverty and violence. Impact is the decrease in the number of people living below the poverty line and the establishment of a just and dependable local community protection solution.

Impact isn’t the programs that your organization implements to preserve oceanic life. Impact is turning the tide – even in incremental ways – of the depreciation, pollution, and negative human effects on our oceans. Impact is the species saved, and their habitats restored.

Impact isn’t your organization’s output. Impact is the community’s outcome.

Take some time this week to peruse your organization’s website. Imagine you’re seeing it for the very first time, and pay particularly close attention to the messaging – whether it be for donations or for fundraising. Ask yourself: Are you going beyond talking about your work to communicate why and how it’s working?

We’re at a point in the giving sector where supporters’ needs and expectations are changing. To keep donors engaged, your organization must focus on achieving measurable outcomes that demonstrate how your activities have improved the situation for your intended population. That’s where strategic altruism should begin — at the end.

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