With all that's being researched and written about the nonprofit sector, the responsibilities nonprofits have to be transparent, and the opportunities they have to articulate their impact, it's easy to get distracted and easier still to become overwhelmed. Borrowing from the world of science, we've summarized our impact measurement philosophy by following two key rules:
- Strive for elegance.
- Keep a low center of gravity.
Strive for elegance.
In scientific terms, a theory or solution to a problem is said to be elegant when it is "pleasingly ingenious and simple." Making something elegant, however, is rarely easy. That's why we "strive" for it. We work at it, we make hard choices, we say "no" to a lot of things and throw out a lot of ideas to hold fast to the rule of elegance. As a result, we've built our impact measurement process around three main questions:
- How much did we spend?
- How much did we do?
- And how much did it matter?
We believe this list is long enough to help us improve our work and short enough to keep us focused on advancing our mission
Keep a low center of gravity.
For us, keeping a low center of gravity means staying close to the ground where our work takes place. That means we're in constant conversation with our partners and those we serve. Any meaning we seek to make and any data we aim to collect comes through consultation with them.
Like a smartly designed race car, having a low center of gravity also allows us to move fast without being afraid of tipping over. Thus, we can be more nimble and nuanced in our impact measurement, trying new things and pivoting on our positions.
As a result, we see impact measurement as primarily about us, our partners, and our work. It's not really about funders, despite what others may say or have us believe. It's about making sure we're getting better day by day and delivering the most impact we can given our current realities and capacities.