What do the people you
help think of your nonprofit? How about
That's a question I ask when I am working on impact reports.
You'd be astounded at how many people can't provide the answer.
Impact statements are an important part of getting grants at any level.
If you operate a nonprofit, you obviously get something
concrete out of it. Whether it's emotional satisfaction or a feeling of being part
of a larger cause, there has to be something in it besides a monetary return.
The problem is, no grant maker wants to know what good you derive
from your organization.
To some extent most impact statements are about statistics,
but numbers don't tell the whole story.
Take the case of a nutrition-focused nonprofit. Their
mission was to provide not just more food, but better food to the low-income population
in their area. To that end, they held what you might call healthy eating food
drives, gave cooking classes and were looking for support to purchase more healthy
foods like raw vegetables and fruit.
They had all the numerical data documenting how many meals
they had provided, nutrition tables and comparisons of calorie substitutes.
They were very proud that they "introduced people to foods they might not
have considered previously." They were also trying to start urban gardens.
What I noticed was that they didn't seem to be serving near
as many people as the statistics would indicate that they should. Some months,
they actually threw away food that had aged past it's safe shelf life.
When I asked the opening questions above they had no answers,
because they had never asked them of their clients.
After a lot of prodding, they agreed to collect some data,
and the results shocked them.
People didn't like their approach. It was described
variously as preachy, stuck up, and out of touch with the community members they
wanted to help.
For instance, one respondent shared that she couldn't keep a
lot of fresh food on hand, because her refrigerator was 40 years old and had a
very tiny freezer. She used a lot of boxed and canned foods, because that's
what she could store.
Another said that her "stove" was a hot plate, so
she couldn't fix anything that needed an oven.
Still another lady wrote back and said "My kids aren't
going to eat brussel sprouts or alfalfa shoots, so why should I waste the gas
to go get them?"
And one that typified why their mission wasn't working in
the community…"I work two jobs now. When would I have time to do all that
canning, and why would I when I can buy the same thing in a can at the store?"
No matter how noble your cause, or how great it makes you
feel, if you can't prove to grantors that it benefits others, they aren't going
to support you.
Ask for honest feedback. Your impact statement will benefit,
and so will your clients or beneficiaries.