Written by Sarah Rutledge, Leadership Giving Assistant at School of the Art Institute of Chicago.
Edited by Sarah Anne Rathbone, Director of Development at DePaul University.
November 3, 2011 Chicago – The 2011 Philanthropy Forecast hosted by the Development Leadership Consortium (DLC) was held Friday, October 21, at the Museum of Contemporary Art. The DLC is a volunteer run professional development organization that mentors new fundraising professionals and engages them throughout their careers. Every other year the DLC hosts a Forecast, bringing together a panel of experts in philanthropy, economics, and fundraising to discuss trends that will shape our industry in the near future.
This year’s event was attended by nearly 200 fundraising and philanthropy professionals. The topic Measurement or Myth: Accountability in Fundraising explored the benefits and shortcomings of outcome-based assessment though a lively discussion with Jason Saul, CEO of Mission Measurement LLC, and Adele Simmons, Vice-Chair and Senior Executive at Chicago Metropolis 2020, moderated by Jamie Phillippe of the Chicago Community Trust.
The conversation began with Mr. Saul’s assertion that there has been a drastic shift in donor motivation. He argues that funders, whether they are corporations, foundations or individuals, no longer want to simply give money to charity, they want to achieve social impact and see real economic value in their investment.
Measurement is therefore increasingly important. Non-profit organizations can no longer just have programs; those programs must produce outcomes. In order for non-profits to make a compelling case for support to donors, they must be able to demonstrate the real economic and social impact of their programs. Mr. Saul suggested that non-profits begin to think more like businesses and treat donors like “customers” seeking to purchase social impact.
Presenting the counterpoint, Ms. Simmons pointed out that though data is important, there are dangers in focusing too much on outcomes-based measurement. First, not all outcomes can be measured. Not only that, but sometimes measurements can be misleading. It may be that one is measuring the wrong thing. A program designed to achieve a certain result, but which ends up having a different, positive social impact may be cut because it failed to have the proposed effect.
Further, the focus on measurement often forces charities to pursue only those programs that produce measurable results in a relatively short period. Not all successful programs lend themselves to short- or medium-term measurement. Big change often happens slowly. Large national foundations recognize this and are more willing to take a risk by investing in transformational programs that can’t or won’t produce short-term measurable results. Therefore, Ms. Simmons warned against relying too heavily on measurement in determining success and advised charities not to throw out time-tested methods of evaluation.
While there are hazards in relying too heavily on data alone, measurement is an increasingly vital tool in building a charity’s case for support. However, charities must do more than just measure outcomes; they must market those outcomes to the right donors in a meaningful and convincing way. Fundraisers need to be innovative in combining conventional wisdom with outcomes-based measurement in a way that appeals to donors’ need to see real economic value and demonstrated social impact.
Again, this year’s Philanthropy Forecast provided participants with an insightful look at trends in the fundraising field. The DLC is grateful to program organizers and our generous sponsors including: Event Sponsor the Museum of Contemporary Art, and Friends of the Forecast The Lloyd A. Fry Foundation and Ter Molen, Watkins & Brandt LLC.
For more information about the DLC and its programs please visit www.chicagodlc.org
Jason Saul is CEO of Mission Measurement, LLC, a social impact consulting firm that uses an outcomes-based approach to help corporations, nonprofits and government agencies improve the results of their social initiatives.
Adele Simmons, former President of the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, is now Vice-Chair and Senior Executive at Chicago Metropolis 2020 where she focuses on early childhood education and developing a Climate Action Plan for the city of Chicago.