Funders, both government and philanthropic, often have a strong focus on measuring the outcomes, impact and effectiveness of the initiatives they fund. Which is great – but is that focus equally directed at measuring the outcomes, impact and effectiveness of ourselves as funders?
Often the answer is no – and there’s some good reasons for this. You can argue that the impact a funder makes is the sum total of the impact of every initiative that funder supports. However it’s not easy to definitively understand the impact of even a single initiative, let alone the combined impact of, say, 30 funded initiatives. And even if measuring this is possible, how does it compare to the potential impact had different funding choices been made? It’s tricky stuff.
At Todd Foundation we have had several attempts at trying to understand our impact as a funder. For a while we were excited by Results Based Accountability (RBA), however it fell by the wayside, partly for the reasons above and partly because of the difficulty in getting definitive baseline data about any of the issues we hoped to contribute to.
We are now taking a more pragmatic approach and trying instead to measure our effectiveness as a funder, a subtly different thing. After much discussion within our team and with other funders both in New Zealand and the US, we’ve boiled this down to five key questions:
- How well do we understand the communities we serve?
- How well do we meet the needs of our stakeholders (eg applicants, grantees, donors, partner organisations)?
- How well are we run?
- How well do we serve our communities beyond giving money?
- How well do we understand the impact of our grants?
This fits quite well into the RBA framework – essentially this is their second key question of “how well did we do it”. Which is far from perfect, but it is a useful start and is completely achievable from evidence we can easily gather in the normal course of our work. More importantly, it provides clear indicators of where we need to improve.
Still, we’d be keen to do this better. Any ideas?