By Jennifer Shen (Partner and Co-Founder, Blue Garnet)
How many times have you heard the word “impact” or “outcomes” this week? We’re betting quite a few — we’d even say they’re buzzwords of the year.
In fact, at the recent 2015 GHJ Nonprofit Conference, the discussion touched on these themes. We heard, “data is king and exceptional leaders are always looking 3-5 years out. Yup, though Panelists Fred Ali, Regina Birdsell, Pegine Grayson and Scott Pansky were addressing different issues like leadership, marketing and volunteerism, we heard all their observations as related to creating exceptional impact.
These themes are centered on a critical question that still begs to be answered: so what? Or put less provocatively: What is the specific impact your organization seeks? And how does what you do create that impact?
We believe a different approach is necessary to operate in today’s outcomes-focused world. One that aligns your intentions with what you do and the results of your efforts. Here are three tidbits to get you started:
1) Start with the end in mind. Creating social change is complex and takes a long time. Start by focusing on what you want your outcome to be over the long term, then develop your strategies to achieve that impact, rather than taking a quick-fix approach to answering “the impact question” on your latest grant report.
2) Link your strategy for impact, your business model, and your learning and evaluation efforts (see visual to the right). This link creates alignment and integration — you don’t have to separate the work of creating social change from figuring out whether or not that work is indeed making an impact. These elements are and should be mutually reinforcing.
3) Develop a common language. We need a shared language and reasonable expectations for funders and nonprofits to talk about output, outcomes and impact. Our current system incentivizes short-term thinking, and expectations around impact are often unrealistic. By creating opportunities for communication on this topic with both funders and nonprofits, we can begin a conversation that will create a more honest and effective social sector.
If you’re interested in taking this approach at your organization, take the next step by attending our upcoming workshop, “What You Need to Know about Outcomes as a Nonprofit Leader,” on October 23rd at First 5 LA’s downtown offices. Register by Oct. 14 with code “GHJ” for a 20 percent discount! Register now as space is limited, or learn more on our webpage.
Blue Garnet is a social purpose consulting firm that works with leading foundations and nonprofits on strategy, performance and results. The Impact Accelerator is a new Southern California initiative focused on preparing our sector to operate in an outcomes-focused world. We’ve transformed Blue Garnet’s time-tested tools and frameworks into a curriculum that will equip you with tangible tools for action in your organization, ultimately building your organization’s capacity for impact. Find out more information at http://bluegarnet.net/ia.
About Jennifer Shen (Partner and Co-Founder, Blue Garnet)
Jennifer Li Shen brings over 15 years of consulting experience to her role as Partner and Co-founder of Blue Garnet, a social purpose company that helps to transform organizations from good enough to truly great. Previously, Jennifer served Fortune 500 clients as a strategy consultant at Boston Consulting Group, where she developed and implemented business and market strategies, and organizational change. She has also worked at TCC Group and The Fannie Mae Foundation.
Jennifer is a Founding Partner and former Board Director of Los Angeles Social Venture Partners, and was business advisor to the Los Angeles Social Enterprise Leadership Forum. She currently serves on the Social Impact Exchange Contributions Review Team and the Terry McAdams Book Award Committee. Jennifer holds an MBA from Yale University and a BA in Political Science with concentration in Public Policy from Swarthmore College. As a wife and mother of three, she lives life to the fullest, and always strives to catalyze social change to create impact.
Jennifer can be reached via email and by phone at (310) 439-1930 x 1#