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But What Do They Actually Do? It’s a question that should be easily answered with simple facts. But here’s where it gets interesting: something that should be so heavily data-driven can actually be quite subjective. I’ll break this down into a couple key areas to clarify.
Quantity vs. Quality:
The quantity side of this can be quickly measured with simple metrics: number of children in a orphanage, number of meals delivered, number of dogs rescued, etc. If you’re looking for an organization that has a large footprint, doing lots of things with immediate results, then you can quickly identify them using basic numbers.
However, some organizations are still highly “impactful”, but are taking a longer game approach based elevated quality of service. You often will see this in the child services space, where an organization recognizes that it can’t help every child and will intentionally focus its resources on a fixed number of children, but providing that absolutely best level of care they can. Their focus is typically on developing future leaders, understanding that they may not see the full benefits of their approach for years or decades, and will have a trickle down effect. Perhaps this definition of “impact” is more philosophically aligned with yours.
Thought Leaders vs. Implementors vs. Networkers:
It’s entirely possible that an organization can be more than one of these, or even all three. Sometimes very large organizations do wear multiple hats and help to bring together smaller organizations, but typically non-profits focus on either research and development or implementation.
Implementors are easier to evaluate as you can apply the metrics discussed above. If they are the ones in the trenches doing the work, they should have quantity and/or quality metrics to back it up.
Thought leaders can have tremendous impact as well, but you need to evaluate them with a bit more nuance. Look for things like:
Networkers can be trickier still to evaluate. They may boast metrics that are really the sum of all of the implementors with whom they work, but that is a bit disingenuous. However, their ability to get these organizations working together has most certainly helped elevate each individual member organization’s quantity and quality metrics. So a good way to evaluate a networking organization would be to analyze how the various member organizations were doing before and after going the network.
So what’s the major takeaway here? The numbers matter when measuring impact, but there is plenty of latitude for personal preference. Use the measuring stick that is most meaningful to you, as it will give you the most confidence in your decision.
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