The word “impact” is thrown around a lot in the non-profit sector.
We tell donors they are making an impact.
We write, “your gifts are making an impact!” in every newsletter.
We tell people that our organization is making an impact in the community every year.
But what do we really mean when we use the word “impact?”
Impact: The Dangers of the Word
I really think that unpacking and explaining impact could be the key to a more successful non-profit communications and fundraising program.
The way that 99% of us use the word right is in a very abstract and ambiguous way. It’s a pattern that I see constantly in the non-profit sector. Because it’s one of those words that pretty much every non-profit use, it is a word that donors have become desensitized to.
Rather than a donor feeling excited about reading that “their gift is making an impact,” they start to question what that means.
It’s now up to all of us to stop using the word and start explaining what we mean.
Now is a prime opportunity for us to change our habits and norms around donor communications. We can do a better job than just telling our donors that they are making an impact. That process begins with defining impact for your organization.
What Does Impact Mean for Your Organization?
One of the great things about the concept of impact for non-profits is that it is completely unique to every organization. There is no blanket definition that will describe how every organization is making an impact in the community with their work.
One of the best ways to measure impact is based on the measureable steps that your non-profit is taking towards realizing your mission and vision.
Your mission and vision are your organization’s reason for existing. If the outcomes of your programs and services are not reflective of your mission and vision, then you’ve got a fundamental problem of misalignment.
To establish your organization’s credibility and improve donor relations, you must be able to communicate exactly how the outcomes of your programs and services support your mission and vision.
Is your organization currently making this mistake?
Good news is that you can recover from it!
The first step is to pull up your mission and vision statement (because who has that memorized?!), and figure out what programs and services metrics actually demonstrate the steps that your organization is taking to make an impact.
This may even be a good activity to do with a few of your programs staff to get their perspective and broaden the discussion.
Stop Using the Word Impact. NOW!
We know that donors want to know how their gift was used and what the outcomes were of it. In a nutshell, they want to know about the impact they are a part of. But we are providing them with a half-baked effort is we just tell them, “Your gift is making an impact in the community.”
I challenge you to remove that word from your vocabulary. Truth be told, it’s doing none of us any good.
Your mission is to go above and beyond the average non-profit donor communications. Leaf through your recent communications and appeals to see where you’ve been using the word “impact.” Start to brainstorm ways that you remove that word and replace it with actual evidence of impact. If need be, go back to the activity of determining what your best metrics are start to find ways of incorporating those into your communications.
Vanessa’s Tip: If you have a minute as you’re reading this, go pull up your current acknowledgement letter that you send to donors and look to see if you provide them with demonstrable evidence of impact. Also, anywhere where you see the word “impact” replace it with an actual metric, story or explanation.