More Questions On Impact: Beneficiary Perspective, Assessment, Heart & Head, and . . . Tomatoes?

How do I incorporate beneficiaries’ perspective? How do I assess impact in a constantly changing world? How do I integrate head and heart? And…what is the impact of a tomato?

We’ve just returned from co-leading a session on defining impact with our partners at Women Moving Millions during their recent annual summit in New York City. We took the podium after the incomparable Gloria Steinem, who knows a thing or two about impact herself! But a conversation is worth a thousand presentations, so in the spirit of discussion, we’d like to share some of the themes that came out of that session and the conversations we’ve been having ever since.

How can I incorporate beneficiaries’ perspectives? In our paper and in the rest of our work, we return often to the question of impact definition and the need to listen to beneficiaries throughout the definition process. That concept resonated with the audience at this event, and we see donors and partners incorporate this emphasis on listening in different ways—seeking out more direct connection to beneficiary groups, embarking on ‘listening tours’, and supporting organizations with a track record of soliciting feedback from the populations they serve. In particular, some donors have found success by not only inviting beneficiaries into their conversations, but by turning to beneficiaries even earlier to have them develop the agenda of those conversations (directly or through intermediaries). It’s not just inviting more groups to the table, but inviting them to “set the table.”

How can I assess impact in a constantly changing world? In an earlier post, we noted that impact doesn’t always mean change (a concept we’ll explore further as our impact myths series continues). When we discussed this idea in our presentation, some familiar questions came back to us— for example, how do you define and assess impact in the women and girls space, when external factors such as rights and freedoms are constantly in flux? If the “before” and “after” are the same, does that mean what you’ve supported has had no real impact?

We’ll save a detailed discussion on measurement methods for another day, but we’ll offer one key takeaway: Think beyond “before” and “after,” to consider “with” and “without.” In other words, what would the world have looked like without the intervention?

How do I integrate head and heart? As the idea of impact-focused philanthropy has gained traction, some have raised questions about what might be lost in that approach. How can a funder be sure that a focus on impact doesn’t come at the expense of the trust and connection that many donors have built—or want to build—with their grantees?

What we’ve found is that integrating head and heard always starts with a definition of a common goal. Once that’s in place, decisions about measurement, evaluation, quantification, costs, and all of those other hot topics can follow naturally–not just from the top down or the bottom up, but as multiple perspectives on a shared goal.

And what about the impact of a tomato? For more on that and how it relates to our impact myths, head over to the blog from Honeybee Capital, another Summit attendee. We loved their creative thinking on this topic— even if it did leave us wanting pizza.

As we continue our series on impact in the following weeks, we’ll go deeper on some of these questions. In the meantime, as the conversations continue, we’re looking forward to seeing what comes next!