A February Resolution: Whether you stay the course or not, know where you’re heading

It’s no secret that real-time feedback is critical to improving performance—and, ultimately, impact. Yet daily responsibilities for philanthropic investors and nonprofit leadership alike can start to relegate assessment to an “end state” activity in which the only question asked and answered is: “Did we get there?”

Having worked with several foundations over the years, I have sourced and executed grants ranging from $50,000/year to over $5 million/year. Each was pursued with the intent of achieving social impact—but the most successful efforts weren’t necessarily the biggest bets. Rather, as Paul Brest and Hal Harvey note in their book, Money Well Spent:

“giving great amounts of money is not tantamount to great giving.”

What made the difference? An empirically driven strategy that:

  1. Started with understanding where we were
  2. Incorporated what we learned along the way
  3. Course-corrected when necessary
  4. Had us look up frequently to make sure the ultimate destination was still in sight

Changing course can be an excellent strategy—as long as you’re still headed towards impact.