Monday, November 22, 2010

Nonprofit Innovators Talk About Impact

Last week, I had the opportunity to attend NextGen:Charity, a conference designed to help nonprofit professionals learn from other successful leaders and innovators (Charity Navigator’s own president & CEO, Ken Berger, presented). During the event, there was a lot of talk about the importance of measuring impact. And there was and equal amount of honest revelation that most charities aren’t yet tracking their impact.

Here are some of the speakers’ comments that stood out for me:

  • When Scott Harrison, founder of charity:water, was getting started, he said his friends were vocal about what was keeping them from giving more to charity. They flat out didn’t trust charities and they wanted some assurances that their contributions were really making a difference. So, Scott put some relatively inexpensive technology – a GPS devise and Google Maps - to use to show how the very first dollars he raised built wells. This helped him quickly build trust in his brand. He suggested that fundraisers will have more success if they sell an opportunity to support a charity rather than guilting others into donating. And he advocated sharing failures (as was the case when one of his wells failed to produce water).

  • Scott Case, co-founder of Priceline.com, CEO & vice-chairman of Malaria No More, and chairman of the Board of Network for Good, had one of the best tips --- plan to go out of business after you’ve accomplished your mission. Here are his 5 reasons why every charity should operate under that premise:

    1. Everyone wants you to go out of business as that means you’ve accomplished your goal.

    2. It helps you prioritize the outcome ahead of the organization.

    3. It frees up your creatively.

    4. It frees up resources.

    5. And, finally, he says it is a good reason to have a party.

Scott also stressed the importance of having measurable goals (how else will you know if and how to change your course of action), that are achievable and that have a time constraint.


  • Ami Dar, the founder and executive director of the very popular Idealist.org, used his time to talk about why it is that we haven’t yet solved the world’s greatest problems. He’s done a fair amount of research on why people do or don’t get involved. First, he asked people “what do you want to do?” And he found that few people had ever been asked that before. Then he asked “what can help you do it?” Among other things, he learned that people are more likely to get involved if they had a ‘buddy’ to participate with and also if they could see the impact of their efforts.

  • The executive director of the Robin Hood Foundation, David Saltzman, believes that measurement in the nonprofit sector is way behind measurement in the for profit world.

  • Katie Hood, CEO of the Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson's Research said her charity is committed to measuring its impact, but needs to be more disciplined in those efforts. She also stress that it is important to be as honest in communicating areas of impact as areas of failure.

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