Jenny ChanMeasuring a Good Idea

By: Jenny Chan In: 2013 Annual Conference| Nonprofits| Philanthropy

17 Apr 2013

Thank you, Jennifer Lentfer, for making it okay to say, “I don’t know.” Well, for encouraging us to say it more frequently, anyway.

Her Values and Evidence – Not at Odds: Seeking a Healthier Relationship with Results in International Philanthropy talk explored our preoccupation with measuring positive impact. One of our conclusions in the break-out session was that there should be “no numbers without stories” and no “stories without numbers.”

While this mantra works well where nonprofits are delivering projects themselves (i.e., for organizations that offer scholarships to girls to go to school in India or for those that support asylum seekers to obtain their benefits in the UK), measuring and subsequently evidencing impact and change can be more difficult for nonprofits that don’t have this direct function.

I work for Family for Every Child, which works to ensure that children can grow up in a safe and caring family. Having delivered projects ourselves in the past and then through local partnerships, we have realised that greatest change can only be brought about by empowering strong, national NGOs and giving them a voice. As we reach 2015 and global leaders review what has been achieved and what still needs to be done, the ability to advocate at the international level is even more important.

Consequently, we have gathered more than 300 years of experience in the shape of a global alliance to bring about maximum impact. Our growing membership delivers fantastic projects that are unique to their own contexts. The support that they need is not help on the ground—easily measurable—but to bring about changes in the policies of their own governments and internationally. As a sole voice, their impact is small; as a global alliance it is great.

On the whole, we all agree in the power of collaborative working. It brings down costs; it has far-reaching impact; and members are able to learn from one another–in the case of Family for Every Child, through practice exchanges. However, “I don’t know” is a frequent answer when working in a coalition and this just won’t cut the mustard for many grantmakers.

Following the causal chain is difficult when there are so many actors all working toward the same goal. Was it the conversation that the Brazilian member had with a government official that brought about change or was it the event in India, which was reported in the newspapers, that brought about the change?

As Jason Saul said in the Measurement: Really? What’s Good Enough? session, what really matters is the end goal. Allow nonprofits to share what we can measure and then to say “I don’t know” when we can’t measure it. Sometimes you just can’t measure a good idea.

Jenny Chan is development manager at Family for Every Child (www.familyforeverychild.org).

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