I have a good friend named Jim Paglia who owns a marketing and branding company called In’s and Out’s. The odd name stands for “insights and outcomes,” which is what Jim prides himself on achieving for his clients – and he does.
But recently, I’ve been thinking about those two words in a different context: the context of making the case for support.
We often talk with our clients about the need to answer the question, “so what?” By that we mean, what are you going to say if a donors looks you in the eye and ask you a simple question? “So, what happens if we fund this?” Or, the converse, “what happens if we don’t fund this?”
These two questions are simplified ways of asking if you have any identified metrics for the outcome of your projects and programs. Unfortunately, while the questions are simple, getting at the answers can be very difficult.
For some organizations, measuring true outcomes may require decades of longitudinal studies following their clients throughout their lives to see the impact of the program. But, this also requires a control group of nearly identical people who do not have access to the program, in order to confirm that the program has a better impact than simply doing nothing. The challenge is that most nonprofit organizations working in human services have neither the time nor the money for this type of study.
But, at least most human services organizations can define, very specifically, the problem or behavior they are trying to impact. Other organizations, however, have a more difficult time even identifying the measurable outcomes they are looking to measure.
Let’s take, for example, an art museum.
Now, before we go down this road let me assure you that I love the arts and Alexander Haas works tirelessly every day helping to advance museums.
But, that experience is precisely why I so well understand this issue. The “outcome” of exposure to the arts is hard to put your finger own. I think most of us agree that exposure to the arts – and especially during childhood – is important.
Does exposure to the arts reduce the likelihood of imprisonment? Does it lead to higher graduation rates? Higher family income?
I’d love to have concrete answers to these questions, but they are very hard to get to and it is very hard to isolate the impact of exposure to art. For example, if you just look at a sample of people whose parents took their kids to the museum, or symphony, or opera and compare that to a random group of kids whose parents did not expose them to these art forms, you might find differences in the long-term life outcomes for each group. But, is the difference because of the exposure to art, or is it because of all of the many ways that these children were parented differently.
See the challenge in getting to outcomes? It is one of the biggest challenges we face in fundraising – making the case.
More for the sake of more does not resonate with most donors – more to do more, does. So think about your inputs and what you are seeking as outcomes, and look for some concrete ways to connect the dots so that you can show a concrete impact of what you do.