How can we measure what matters?

It seems like common sense. Donors want to know how their donations have helped an organization attain the social change that is important to them.  Each organization has their own unique way of going about moving the dial on the big picture, whether it be to end poverty, reach gender equality, or stop climate change – these important goals are the reason not-for-profits exist.

So why is it so hard for organizations to show how their individual work affects the underlying issues that are the source of so much social disparity?

One reason might be that we can get lost in the day to day of the mission and focus on internal targets that resonate well with staff and volunteers but they don’t provide the context that a wider audience is looking for when choosing to allocate their donations. Donors need to feel that they are making a difference, it needs to be clear what their impact is on the wider issue they believe in.

Another reason it is difficult for some organizations to show they are successful in tackling the big picture issues is that their mission might be very broad in scope. This can sometimes be the consequence of organizations keeping as many funding options opened to them as possible or an outdated strategic plan that doesn’t address the current realities of an organization.

It is essential to show that an organization is going beyond just treating the symptoms of a social problem. It is only by illustrating how you are working towards eliminating the root causes  that create an unsustainable situation that you build long lasting engagement with your stakeholders. 

Stories, stats, and a universal filter
Using classic methods of storytelling and sharing big data based on national statistics are useful ways in tying in your organization’s work with the bigger picture. But since January 1st, 2016 there is a new tool available to organizations, businesses, and countries that will make our planet a more sustainable place for all. The world’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are universal and can unite the work of the nonprofit sector on a global scale.

The United Nations SDGs are the blueprint to achieve a better and more sustainable future because they address the global challenges we all face, including those related to poverty, inequality, climate change, environmental degradation, peace and justice. The 17 Goals are all interconnected, and collectively we can achieve them by 2030 if we make a conscious effort to work towards them.  

By using the SDGs as a way to set microlevel goals for your organization, you can effectively measure what matters because you are moving as part of a wave towards a more sustainable world. Microlevel goals can be simple and clear, and if achieved, implies success on a grander scale. 

Canada has already reported on how, as a country, we are fairing in achieving the 17 goals agreed upon by 193 nations around the world. This data is helpful for organizations to use as a clear benchmark that can be communicated with stakeholders because it is a way to showcase your contribution in moving the dial on a national level. It is data that demonstrates to donors how their donation is hard at work at the underlying issue that matters the most to them. And that is the crucial part in framing who your organization is to them.

Many not-for-profits are making the conscious choice to use the SDGs as a universal filter for their work and for their organization. Recently, Geordie Theatre, a Montreal-based group that delivers performances to children and their families with the goal of ensuring that theatre is accessible to all, has embarked on the process.

Staff participated in a workshop organized by Phil that walked them through the process of identifying how their organization fit into the broader framework of the SDGs. The effort of a few hours became a game changer for this organization – a clear framework quickly became apparent that has oriented every member of the team in the same direction. From the choice of playwrights to hiring practices, a new set of questions are being asked that are based on the clear and simple goals that they have set out for themselves that are grounded in the SDGs.

The next time your major donor asks for a report to show how you are working towards eliminating the root causes that are creating so much social disparity, consider how much clearer you could present the important work you are doing through the lens of the world’s to do list. It is worth the effort as an organization to embrace the SDGs as a united way to work together as a sector to achieve the goals set out by 2030. You don’t have to start the process of reframing success alone, we are here to help. Take a look at how Phil has chosen to work on the SDGs for a little inspiration.