The number one question I hear grantmakers ask themselves time and time again is, “Are we making a difference?”
This pinnacle inquiry often leads to a subsequent series of questions and reflections on their grantmaking strategy:
How do we know we are making a difference?
Can we make a bigger impact?
If so, how?
Deliberately exploring how to make the most of your giving is the first step in understanding the impact of your philanthropy. It is important to note, that both assessing and increasing your impact may or may not be a linear process. Similar to the image symbolizing this month’s blog theme, assessing philanthropic impact is a hands-on, engaged activity and part of a much larger process of building change. Additionally, assessment utilizes a variety of tools and indicators that serve as markers of achievement and progress.
The ultimate goal of assessing impact is to routinely engage in practices that help you examine, reflect, and take action in honing your grantmaking strategy.
With assessing impact, there is no wrong way to start as any effort to initiate this intentional reflection is a great lead step. If time is your excuse, I challenge you to carve 10-minutes! Yes, ten simple minutes to complete Exponent Philanthropy’s Impact Assessment Tool at your next board meeting or annual leadership retreat and get the dialogue going. I am confident this one framework will fuel future discussions on how your foundation approaches impact!
CivicAIM has supported a spectrum of grantmaking institutions — those who have sophisticated, data systems to track their giving efforts and detail the work of their grantee partners, to funders, who are at the design phase of developing key milestones and indicators that will help illuminate progress of their philanthropic efforts. In either case, both sets of funders seek to be intentional, strategic, routinely reflective and proactively engaged in refining their impact.
As your foundation leadership reviews this year’s grantee portfolio and plans for its future giving, CivicAIM encourages you to reflect and discuss the following learning questions:
- What impact are we trying to achieve?
Take note of how each member of your foundation describes said impact. Is there alignment? Differences? How well does it coordinate with your current strategy?
- In reviewing our grantees, what contributions have they made toward advancing the impact we seek?
Your grantee partners (and they are exactly that – Partners with a capital P!) are direct extensions of furthering your philanthropic aims. Is there cohesion in the programs and organizations your foundation funds? In what ways might your foundation strengthen, coordinate and leverage the values, expertise and resources each organization/program brings?
- What have we learned about our grantmaking strategy thus far?
Take time to identify successes, lessons learned and even failures. In many ways, hindsight is 20/20. What variables (internal/external factors) do you feel led to the cited outcome? What changes, if any, will your foundation make given what you’ve learned thus far? What other information do we need to understand progress in our strategy?
- How can we continue to be knowledgeable in the giving area(s) we fund?
Just as you invest in your grantees to build their work and efforts, invest in your foundation’s professional development as a way to boost your effectiveness as a grantmaker. Who else does work similar to us in the field of philanthropy? How might our work add value to what others are doing? What professional affinity and networking groups exist that we might participate and collaborate with?
It can help to take these discussion prompts one at a time and have a thorough discussion on your foundation’s strategic aim, capacity and overall expectations to charting impact. CivicAIM is here to help, with research, planning and facilitation services to support your foundation to stay effective and a powerful catalyst of positive change and impact.