I recently worked with Rose Cole at Madison House in Charlottesville, VA. Rose is the Director of Community Engagement at Madison House, which is a 501(c)3, but interestingly serves as the volunteer center for students at the University of Virginia (UVA) in Charlottesville, VA. They coordinate student volunteers for local nonprofits, develop leaders, build community partnerships, and promote lifelong service. Rose has a PhD in Educational Leadership, Foundations, and Policy in Higher Education. She understands data, has taken advanced statistics, and understands all the research behind evidence-based practices.
Nonetheless, this was Rose’s question for me: “How do I balance what’s good for the clients, what funders are impressed by, what potential clients’ (students and nonprofits) are impressed by, and what grants ask for when all this stuff doesn’t line up? How do I align all the pieces for the organization so everyone agrees on what’s valuable and we are able to tell a consistent story that makes sense?”
Giving Up Your Power
Rose is a strong, smart, and savvy woman. So she knew she was giving up her power. She fell into the same position I see many nonprofit leaders fall into: responding to demands. This is what happens when an organization doesn’t own its own impact story. Nonprofits are routinely shapeshifters, twisting themselves into knots to please stakeholders and funders. None of the shapes are false, but all these contortions can leave a nonprofit depleted and unfocused. How many of you have actually created a program to get grant money? I know, right?!?
Taking Back the Story
When nonprofits are proactive in articulating their impact story, they take back the conversation. They are able to seek out funding and grants that fit them. They stop chasing money and start chasing impact. Using our ImpactStory™ Strategy, this is what we set up Madison House to do.
Madison House’s Story
We met with Rose and her team, including her Executive Director. Here’s what we did.
ONE: We created a Strategic Impact Map™. This is a tool we created, similar to a Logic Model, that draws clear lines between the strategies and rogramming provided to specific and immediate outcomes that can be expected. A Strategic Impact Map™ is a powerful (one-page!) tool for clearly
articulating what your organization does, and how clients walk away from working with you better off than they were when they first came in. Imagine everyone at the organization pointing in the same direction with common language!
For Rose, this meant coming to consensus and unapologetically clarifying the true primary goal of the organization – to provide meaningful and growth for UVA students through reflective leadership.
TWO: Because Madison House serves two clients – UVA students and local nonprofits – we needed to carefully articulate the community needs they were serving. We reviewed the nearly 100 years of organizational history and pinpointed the reason Madison House exists for UVA students, as well as the need for volunteers of in the local community. Not all nonprofits have such a complex story to tell about why the community needs them, but for Madison House this was critical.
THREE: We created an Impact Statement (see a sample Impact Statement for Affordable Housing) which laid out exactly why the programming that Madison House provides is likely to result in long-term change for student volunteers. We pulled from the latest academic literature on the benefits of “service learning” for college students – which is when volunteers engage in reflective discussion and learning with seasoned leaders. We aligned the immediate impact of service learning with the Strategic Impact Map.
Impact Statements are critical for small- and medium-sized nonprofits because they just cannot do randomized design research that follows clients long-term to understand what long-term change results from the services they got. Fortunately, there is such a wealth of information about programming that works on-line, that we are almost always able to provide language for nonprofits that allows them to focus on immediate impact while also being confident long-term change is likely.
FOUR: (Wait – there’s more?!?) We reviewed all the data Madison House already collects and we sorted into the impact stated in the Strategic Impact Map. Now we had a clear picture of what data Madison House already collected, and what they needed to collect, in order to tell a masterful impact story.
What’s Next for Madison House
We don’t know! But we are about to! We just sent an email to Rose to follow-up. Stay tuned to hear what changes came about.
At Partnerships for Strategic Impact®, we focus on building out the structures and strategies you need for collecting actionable impact data, and then training staff in how to use them, analyze data, and then make action steps for change. We then provide just the right amount of quarterly coaching to ensure sustainability and success. You’ve worked hard to develop honest, trusting relationships with all your stakeholders and funders, and you have the powerful testimonials highlighting how you’ve changed lives. But we all know numbers still matter.
You really can tell the whole story of how your organization is improving people’s lives. You really can talk about how people can take what they learn and make lasting change. And you really can talk about how your work is done in service of improving community conditions for everyone.
This is within reach. Your funders and the people being served deserve to know more about the value your organization delivers.
We Get It
Your work is value driven. Its value lies in the impact of your work on the people served. Let us help you tell your impact story. If you’re reading this, then you’re part of our network. Just call. There’s no sales pitch and no obligation. Just curiosity and answering your questions.
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