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Measuring Your Non-Financial Impact

Kat Rosqueta (Founding Executive Director of the Center for High Impact Philanthropy) discusses the challenges surrounding measuring non-financial impact. Doug Balfour (CEO of Geneva Global) discusses measuring short and long term impact and the importance of self-auditing your foundation


Ron: Moving to the non-financial impact metrics for success, can you talk to the audience about your opinions on measuring non-financial impact? As we learned from the survey, that’s what a lot of folks are struggling with.

Kat: Well the good news is, we are able to have more confidence in measuring and managing impact today than families and funders were able to do even 5, 10 years ago. And that’s because just like everything else in the world there have been advances in the types of information that’s available and the ways people are putting together that information in order to understand where there’s progress. There are video feeds and real life data coming via cell phones that will give you very specific information around what’s going on with the beneficiaries that organizations are trying to help. So that’s the good news. The challenge remains that unlike with money, that is a unit that were very used to measuring and your dollar is as green as my dollar. Social impact is about the kinds of things that are bigger than that. So we’re talking about things like does this women have a say in how her life will be. Does this child have enough to eat? Will this boy be able to read and actually get something out of his education from 3rd grade on? Those are the kind of social impact issues that we’re about and it’s much tougher to see and measure that than it is to count the number of bills we have in our pockets. But if you’re focused on trying to understand well are we making progress with whatever metrics we have today? I mean that’s the path. So I guess the one thing is don’t let the messiness and the imperfection of metrics prevent you from measuring something that will give you some confidence that you’re making the difference you want to make.

Ron: Doug, you have a lot of thoughts on this issue in terms of providing foundations with better ways to understand and reflect their good results and their not so good results from a non-financial perspective.

Doug: I think like so many other things, you start with the design, what are you trying to achieve. And therefore what type of social return are you really looking for? How aggressive do I want that to be? How long do I need for it to actually take to give me results? It all depends whether how our foundation members are. Are they patient people or not patient people? And looking at levels of risk and such like. So you start to actually get metrics that come out and there are typically two types of results you’ll see. One of which is counting stuff, you know, it’s counting activities, it counting wells, its counting basically empowered women, it’s counting number of live births. It’s counting stuff. And then there’s the deeper question of well what is really impact and the trouble is for most of us, long term impact takes longer than we’re often willing to wait for the result. So I’ve started to sort of talk about impact proxies. There’s a lot of things we know from research and such like is that if you actually see this proxy then it’s reasonable to assume that this type of impact will happen. So an example would be you know clean water in a community basically we can see that, we can start to actually assume if we see all the health center data from that region, the diarrheal diseases coming down significantly we can start to assume that that’s having a long term impact on water-borne diseases. And then the last piece is just something that we do every year at Geneva Global. Start to actually have a lessons learnt time. Gather the people that your foundation is interacting with in terms of grants in terms of impact investment and actually ask them the questions of what is working and what is not working and what could be better and how are we going to learn from this? What are we going to do differently next year or the next 3 years?

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