Donors care about your work's qualitative impact a lot more than you think.
One of the most pressurising situations for organisations is when they need to show the impact of their work and efforts to the funders who are investing in that work. There is a scram to find the right numbers and there is often a lot of stress around showcasing reach or outcomes (often the only quantitative data collected) as impact to validate the optics of the program.
The problem is that recording measurable quantitative change takes time. It has been difficult for organisations to quantify the amount of improvement brought into someone’s life through an intervention. While teams have begun investing in baseline / end line studies, it will take a few more years until we have a strong data set and meaningful insights to derive from it. I am not saying there is NO good quantitative impact data. It just needs more brewing time for many. Funders and donors often find a lot of the data set undercooked. While the presentation is great, we are all expected to extrapolate “potential” from a limited data set.
On the other hand, organisations are witnessing lives improving in front of their eyes on ground. While what they see is often hard to put in words or a report, there is enough truth in it to feel confident about the quality and impact of the work. This is the “intangible” qualitative impact. The “stories of change”. While internally, these stories are what drives organisations, their culture, and their purpose, for some reason, no one seems to care enough to invest in developing these powerful stories for the outside world. It’s always something that’s given as an “added assignment” to an already over-burdened team member.
It’s either because they cannot seem to quantify the return on investment, or they think donors and funders don’t care about it as much.
Donors love it and care for it more than we think.
Over the past 10 years, I have been speaking to hundreds of local and international philanthropists, donors, foundations, CSR partners, and individual donors, to understand what draws them into an org. I can safely say that the first and most powerful draw is 1 little story, or a photo, or a voice that really got them thinking about a topic. It isn’t necessarily a “sad story” of suffrage or a crisis. It’s a story of hope, belief, and inspiration that they can deeply connect with on a personal level. A piece of information that moves them. Something that leaves a mark in their mind 3 days after learning about it in a pitch meeting.
We need to strive to find those stories.
Don’t make it a sidekick role. Don’t be cheap about investing money, resources and time in it. Honestly, it’s one of the rare, unique things about your work that might set you apart from anyone else around in the sector.
It’s a lot more than a Telebrands Ad. (First everything sucked, but now, thanks to <insert org> everything is so much better)
You can show change, improvement, and impact with a simple, powerful story.
It’s more than a testimonial of a woman saying “Humko abh accha lag raha hai”. It’s about capturing something deeper, more honest, and not necessarily an “obvious” positive sentence. It is about capturing the emotions, the unspoken thoughts and feelings in their truest form. Which means you can’t go in the field for 5 minutes with a pre-planned script. You need to spend some time in the field, get to know members of the community, understand the way things work and let the stories organically come to you.
Where do we start?
Start by documenting an experience that moved YOU. Try to put words and visuals together that can help capture the emotions that you felt. Document it in a way that can help others feel what you felt.
Get smart, experienced people to help you build these stories. It’s not for the intern. It’s not for a junior team member just getting warmed up to your work, and the social impact space. If you get these guys to document and write for you (which is often the case), you are going to build stories that lack depth.
Start by investing in creating 3-5 powerful stories per quarter. All it takes is a little bit of time, and a lot of heart. Try to capture the emotion behind the story/ experience in photos. The content of the photo is what matters, not the quality. Take the photos with your phone and write mini photo essays. In your essays, write not just what you observed, but also what moved you. The reader will likely feel the same emotion if you get it right.