Demonstrating & Communicating Philanthropy’s Impact

OK, for the 4th of four summary posts from Conversation 2009, here’s a brief synthesis of what participants had to say about the topic.

We all strive to translate the enormous complexity of our organizational pursuits into meaningful stories about people. We must recognize and embrace the donor’s call for transparency, devising new ways to help them get the information they want when they want it.

As practitioner awareness and language migrates away from fundraising (means) and increasingly to impact (ends), a host of challenges and new opportunities arise. Understanding, demonstrating, and communicating organizational impact cannot be relegated to a single operating department. It is a leadership philosophy about the covenant with the donor.

Dreams, visions, preferred futures—by whatever name, they are philanthropy’s igniters and catalysts for positive change. Rather than trying to persuade donors to see an organizational feature or point of view, we have an obligation to foster each donor’s sense of self-discovery. We are not only connecting donors to our organizations, we are connecting donors to their own dreams.

If our work in philanthropy is to be truly transformational, we must create a safe place for unprecedented and insightful dialogue about the true significance and meaning of our work. There is merit in taking the long-term view. As practitioners, we have to live into the possibilities of these unintended consequences. We must learn and adapt as we go. By creating a new frame for the conversations that are intended to facilitate solutions, the resulting “big ideas” can lead to sustainable solutions and fewer unwelcome consequences.

Our conversation led us to a set of emerging guidelines for decision making around the focus of philanthropy:

Illustration by Ken Hubbell
Leading by asking different questions.

(Illustration by Ken Hubbell)