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Impact evaluation for CSR and grantmakers


Are your grant and CSR programs easy to measure? Are your outcomes mapped in board-ready reports? Does your grant reporting system have sustainability?

We know firsthand that impact evaluation and reporting can be a complicated process, with the burden on both the nonprofit and the grantmaker. How can we collectively streamline the grantmaking and corporate investment process?

We hosted a discussion with Jason Saul, CEO and Founder of Impact Genome, the world's leading registry on social impact. Jason is the Executive Director of the Center for Impact Sciences at the University of Chicago’s Harris School of Public Policy. He is also the founder and Executive Chairman of Mission Holdings, the parent company to Mission Measurement, the Impact Genome, and OutcomesX. For over 25 years, Jason has been a pioneer in the field of social change, developing new methods to standardize, verify, and price social impacts.

Impact Genome helps nonprofits communicate their impact in a more scalable, sustainable, and effective way while helping funders and corporations better understand and measure the social outcomes of their grantmaking efforts, and inform their grantmaking strategies.

Watch the event recording here to see how grantmakers and businesses can increase the social impact of every dollar spent.


What is impact evaluation?

Impact evaluation is an essential part of program management, allowing organizations to measure their progress and make informed decisions about their strategies. This methodological approach is an assessment of how a particular intervention or program affects an outcome, and can provide valuable insights into the effectiveness of a program. By conducting impact evaluations, organizations can understand the potential for their program to lead to positive community change, identify the most effective interventions, and discover any unintended consequences. With this information, organizations can adjust their strategies to improve programming and ensure that resources are being used most effectively and efficiently. Impact evaluation is a powerful tool for program evaluation and can help organizations better understand their progress and maximize their impact.

"In the old world, you would hire someone to write up a report or conduct a randomized impact trial. Even if you hire two different people for the same program, they could be evaluated differently. A majority of grants don't get evaluated, and it costs thousands of dollars to do. Everyone hires their own evaluators and uses their own methodology, but if you look very closely and use x-ray vision to look at thousands of grants, and wrote down the goal of each one of those grants, you'd see something magical appear...we're all aiming at the same goals."


Jason launched a consulting firm, Mission Measurement (MM), to advise funders and nonprofits on how to measure their impact. From day one, Mission Measurement kept a database of outcomes that they measured for clients – eventually resulting in a list of 77,000 outcomes. But when they deduplicated the wording and characteristics, they realized that there were, in fact, only 132 common outcomes in the entire social sector.

"We wrote down common goals from thousands of grants and once we deduplicated it, there were only 132 outcomes in the entire world. There's only so many things we're trying to do, so instead of burdening nonprofits for making up metrics to measure impact, we can report against the same goals, simplify, and not recreate the wheel."



These outcomes directly intersect with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (UNSDGs), and apply globally.

"The United Nations Sustainable Development Goals are population-level statistics. One nonprofit can't contribute to that one macro-level statistic alone. However, the outcomes in Impact Genome snap up to the UNSDGs, like scaffolding. They provide outcomes that are measurable and can be achieved in one to two years."


The importance of impact evaluation

Impact evaluations are a critical tool for organizations and grantmakers looking to ensure their programs are producing the desired results. By assessing the impacts of a program, organizations can identify which programs are successful and which are not, and use this knowledge to inform decision-making about future programs. Impact evaluations provide evidence-based information that can be used to recognize accomplishments, improve the effectiveness of existing programs, and to identify gaps in programming. This evidence can also help inform budgeting decisions, ensuring accountability around funding.

The importance of impact evaluation cannot be understated. Impact evaluations can help ensure that programs are reaching their intended beneficiaries and that the outcomes are in line with the goals of the program. By using impact evaluations, organizations and grantmakers can learn from their successes and failures and use this knowledge to craft better solutions that are tailored to the needs of their communities.

Despite the importance of impact evaluation, the impact evaluation process can be long, costly, and tiresome, for nonprofits and grantmakers alike:

"There's an impact evaluation industrial complex–there are lots of evaluators charging a lot of money and recreating the wheel every time, with no centralization. We can't keep making up different words for all the different things we're doing. We can't learn. We can't aggregate. We can't compare. We can't analyze. No one's gonna value what they're doing, and I think that message is really important.”

The social sector needs an impact registry to standardize social impact: enter Impact Genome. Jason and his team developed a taxonomy to develop a list of outcomes. The list is regularly reviewed so that outcomes can continue to be added; for example, they have recently added outcomes related to refugees, trauma-informed care, and youth civic engagement.



How does Impact Genome support nonprofits and grantmakers?

Impact Genome's taxonomy can help code every grant program in the world. The implementation of a social impact registry would help nonprofits focus on their programming, rather than spending money and staffing on their own impact evaluation.

"We often hear the challenge of measuring impact from funders and nonprofits. This model would give everyone involved more stability and structure, and a more common way of talking about impact. It's a very simple concept: How do we standardize the language?"

Impact Genome's taxonomy is on a global level, with nonprofits all over the world reporting outcomes into the registry. "We can measure things like small business growth, anti-poverty initiatives, disaster relief, and malaria prevention. We're working with companies all over the world, as well as governments, allowing us to get a critical mass of data globally. The goals are pretty common."

The program is quite powerful. Nonprofits will have access to informed data that enables them to design new programs using proven components. For example:

  • Mentorship: Having data that shows that adding mentors to a youth program helps improve engagement, can be a valuable contribution to a youth development organization.
  • Youth Involvement: Receiving data that reveals increased participation when youth are involved in designing volunteer activities could increase engagement for a voting rights organization.
  • Financial Health: Accessing data that shows how personalized financial and credit counseling is far more impactful than access to more money, will set any organization up for financial success.

"Knowing these things could transform the way we understand and create initiatives: we can design new programs, and we can change how nonprofits report to funders. The ultimate answer to trust-based philanthropy is for nonprofits to measure impact any way they want, as long as they have evidence of what they accomplished. Funders should move away from metrics and look toward outcomes."

This approach, fueled by data and trust, can change the way nonprofits operate, and the way reporting communications works for grantmakers and companies.

Where does equity come in? How can we systematically ensure equitable practices?

"We've done a lot of research on social capital and institutional racism. A lot of organizations are at a huge disadvantage for accessing resources because of institutional racism and relationships. According to Candid, one percent of nonprofits get 50 percent of all grants. At the core, if you're a small community organization, without the fancy education or friends in high places, you're at a disadvantage. But if we change that to a meritocracy, we can democratize the rules of philanthropy. How many outcomes can you produce for how many beneficiaries? People can buy from you without knowing who you are. It's not about fancy degrees or credentials, it's about whether you can move the needle forward on issues we care about.

It's also about asking beneficiaries what they need, we forget to actually ask people what they need. We conducted a survey with the National Opinion Research Center to ask people if they were hungry and what they needed to not be hungry. The list of interventions we received from what people needed was completely different from what hunger nonprofits are doing!"

As a centralized reporting registry, nonprofits can sign up for free, register their program, and choose outcomes from the taxonomy. They put in the evidence that makes sense for their program, and their cost per outcome, allowing funders to review the total ownership of costs and outcomes for nonprofits.

Impact Genome is paving the way as a disrupter of grants management, streamlining the reporting and impact evaluation process. It also creates sustainability for impact reporting and evaluation for the long term.

"It's like a stock registry, funders can go here and just buy outcomes. It will look like an e-trade for social impact. If you're a funder and want to buy a program, you'll state the outcome you're looking for, and we'll show you the matching nonprofits that produce that outcome. Use the registry, and stop creating all these different grant reports and applications.

Funders need to take leadership and accountability in the field, creating circumstances that will contribute to organizational sustainability.

"They need to say that they believe in trust and data, and want to reduce the burden on nonprofits...We now have some of the biggest funders in the world using this system. It comes down to leadership in the field on the nonprofit and funder side to raise these conversations and say it's time to stop the madness and generate a way forward.

We've worked with a lot of funders who have forced metrics on nonprofits because they have to report to their board. It's about authenticity. Allow nonprofits the power to select the outcomes that make sense for them. Give them the dignity to report their own evidence against their own claims instead of hiring outside evaluators. You may have a small community-based organization that is made up of volunteers, they don't have good data, but have really good outcomes—so you take the risk. Honor the work of nonprofits and put a value on it. Allow nonprofits to act as real actors in a two-sided market."

Join the Impact Genome community

We’re happy to announce that we have partnered with Impact Genome to expand impact reporting for our nonprofits, grantmaking, and corporate partners. Together, we are answering the call to streamline and expand reporting so that nonprofits are better equipped to provide high impact programs for their communities.

If you’re a nonprofit, grantmaker, or corporation, and would like to learn more about high-impact reporting, let’s connect. Email us here.

Visit our events page to RSVP for upcoming foundation programming and discussions like these.

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