Impact Is Impact Is Impact – Or Is It?

By Sara Beggs, Exponent Philanthropy

Among our foundation members, 41% say that a need for greater focus or impact tops their list of concerns.

Interestingly, according to the white paper What Are We Talking About When We Talk About Impact, published by The Center for High Impact Philanthropy and Women Moving Millions, impact might mean very different things to each of those responding to the survey.

First, there is a perception that impact is always change—and secondly, that the change is always positive. Neither of these ideas hold true in every circumstance, particularly for interventions relat­ing to women and girls, where “holding the line” (perhaps preventing the passage of a restrictive law) may represent an enormous accomplishment. Defin­ing impact as positive change will undervalue the contributions of many effective organizations work­ing on hard problems or under difficult conditions.

A third common misconception is that there are some impacts that simply can’t be measured; this stems in part from a fourth misconception, which is that impact must be attributed to a particular actor or action. In reality, some impacts—such as a change in attitudes towards women—are very difficult or perhaps impossible to attribute to specific causes, but the impact itself can still be measured, even without a clear causal attribution.

What is clear from the paper is that no single definition of impact is right for every funder or every situation.

We encourage you and your colleagues to think about how you define impact. Although it may seem like an academic exercise, a discussion about impact, both how you define it and how you achieve it, can be the first step in moving toward greater impact.

Consider using our Getting to Impact Discussion Guides or 10-Minute Impact Assessment, to help you frame the discussion, identify areas of strength and opportunities for increasing your impact, and reinforce specific areas with targeted tips and resources.

How do you define impact? Better yet, I’d love to hear how you are having an impact that meets your definition.

Related resources
Exponent Philanthropy’s resources on impact
Twenty Ways to Make a Difference, a primer from Exponent Philanthropy available in PDF (free to members) or hard copy

Sara BeggsSenior Program Director Sara Beggs focuses her time and energy on equipping philanthropists with the information and inspiration to achieve greater impact over time. Her greatest philanthropic joy is participation in Blooming Kids for Kindness, a group of ten families who encourage their children to care about their communities and recognize that each can make a difference through local and international volunteer and fundraising activities.

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