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Evaluating Impact: Who Would Miss Us If We Were Gone?

John Moore of Brand Autopsy is running a periodic blog series he calls "Would You Care?" He features a particular company (today it's about Chili's) and asks readers if they would miss the company if it went out of business.

What does this have to do with nonprofits? A lot of organizations spend a lot of hours trying to demonstrate impact. Often this becomes a list of activities in which the organization has engaged, as opposed to looking at how it has changed lives or moved policymakers. This is one of Robert Egger's main complaints in Begging for Change, as he rightly argues that we should be working to put ourselves out of business by addressing the root causes of the issues that got us working in the first place. A mere list of numbers served is no indicator of the quality of that service or the impact that it's having.

It occurs to me, though, that a very simple question we should be asking our constituents is:

Would you miss us if we were gone?

And to put more meat on those bones:

  • Is what we provide so special, so important and life-changing that you would feel a void if our organization went away? Or would another nonprofit easily step right in to fill our shoes?
  • Is how we treat our employees so amazing that they would be hard-pressed to find the same great work environment in another organization if we went out of business?
  • Would you miss the amazing quality of our service to constituents? Would you find yourself saying "XYZ Nonprofit would never have done it that way" if we were no longer here?
  • Would it be impossible for someone to earn a place in your heart the way that we have if we went away?

This, to me, is the heart of impact. These are questions that we should be asking not only as organizations, but as departments within organizations and as individuals within those departments. If the answer is that we wouldn't be missed, then the question is, "What do we have to change in order to make you miss us if we were gone?"

UPDATE--Bronwyn brings up an excellent point in comments--that we should think about WHO is missing us and WHY it is that they would miss us. This takes us much closer to understanding what value we create for different constituents.


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Let's take this further. WHO would miss us if we were gone? Understanding our client/constituent base. WHY would they miss us? Understanding what are the best, most important services we provide.

I've worked with a lot of clients to help them understand the difference between outputs (what we do all day long) and outcomes (the impact our work has on people). I find the transition from that big "aha!" moment when they get the idea, to action evaluating their own program outcomes, is a long, long journey.

Great point, Bronwyn! I moved it up into the post because I think that it needs to be highlighted. Thanks!

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