These days, we can no longer assume that we are making an impact, we actually have to prove that we are making a real difference in the lives of those we serve through positive outcomes, positive impact, and positive change.
Therefore, in order to adequately answer the question “Are we making an impact?”, there are five important questions you should ask yourself about your organisation on a regular and consistent basis.
So, whether your funders are requiring this information, or you just want to strengthen the purpose of your organisation, the following five questions will keep your organisation focused on what really matters.
How do we define our impact?
This question is the foundation of the five questions. Defining impact identifies a “point A” and a “point B.” and helps to determine what signifies a successful program or positive outcome. For example, are we leading at-risk-youth from potential high school dropout to higher educational outcomes with increased chances of college acceptance and enrolment? So when we see “x” change and “y” outcome, we know that the impact we are aiming for has been achieved. But, it is important when defining impact that you are specific, clear, and direct, which will make it easier to answer the remaining four questions below.
How do we know if we are making an impact?
This question removes all assumptions and moves beyond anecdotal evidence to establishing tangible proof, empirical evidence and data (for more information on types of outcomes data, see our blog). Answering this question assists you in determining what metrics or measures show success toward your impact goal, what trends or information identify achievement of impact, and what outcomes contribute to ultimate achievement of impact. It moves away from defining the intended impact of your efforts, and objectively and impartially proves that you’ve actually achieved the intended impact.
How do we articulate and communicate our impact to others?
The proof that you gather to demonstrate that you are making an impact may make sense to you, your Board, and your internal staff, but do they make sense to other external stakeholders, including the community? It is therefore important to craft a message that you can articulate and communicate to others in order to make your positive impact real for others. So while the metrics, definitions, trends, and data matter to your organisation, sometimes they don’t capture the “hearts and minds” of those external to your organisation so they need to be adapted to make sense to them. You might also have to adapt your message for internal staff so that they are clear on the work that they have done to make an impact so that they can then communicate this impact to the external world.
How do we evaluate our impact?
This question goes hand in hand with the final question and is about assessing impact through analysis of progress so that you can engage in continuous improvement down the track. So it is important to plan for evaluation prior to starting your outcomes measurement journey. Evaluating impact doesn’t mean formal program evaluation from trained program evaluators. Although this is a good strategy to include in your planning process later on, this question is simply about comparing expectations with reality and learning from that comparison. Learning can then become the catalyst for growth and improvement.
How can we increase our impact?
This question should be asked regularly. So once you know you are making a difference, this question helps you to build on this by working out ways to create even more positive impact tomorrow than you did today. This question is a core principle of continuous improvement and ensures you don’t become static, but continually look for ways to improve by making tweaks, changes, and alterations to your programs and services. Therefore, as pressure for funding continues, this and the previous four questions will ultimately ensure that your organisation is sustainable in the long term and that you continue to make lasting changes for those you serve.