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Thriving Nonprofits: How to Tell Your Programs Are Making A Difference

We all want work to be fulfilling. But as a nonprofit executive or program leader, you have a special burden: you want to make a meaningful difference in the world. But how can you tell if your programs are truely making adifference?

These three pointers can help you determine whether the programs you champion are making a meaningful difference in the world.

Pointer One: YOU!

Shocking, right? I know.

Your passion to address a social problem probably inspired you to set up or take up a job at your nonprofit organization. Or maybe it wasn’t your passion. Perhaps it was the prospect of building a thriving career out of your role at your nonprofit. 

Either way, what you do now rubs off on those in your immediate sphere and moves you closer to tomorrow’s reality.

In the nonprofit world, we often make sweet talk about being selfless in service, giving one’s self away, and so on. While these are great, and very politically correct, there is no denying that a person’s job eventually rubs off on them and vice-versa. You are what you do, and you cannot give what you don’t have.  Besides, you are not some alien trying to fix another planet. You are part of the world you want to change. So it’s okay to ask the question: “What’s in it for me?”

You should be one of the first beneficiaries of the work you do. Your organization and the responsibilities you deliver on should make a difference in your own life. So if this is not happening, if your job is not producing a feeling of accomplishment in your life, your organization or program is probably not really making a difference. 

Pointer Two: Donor Talks

Many funders give to causes they care deeply about but don’t have the non-financial capacity to make the type and scope of difference they would love to make otherwise. Often, they want to see people’s lives change in very definite ways. If your funders and donors can attest to the difference you think your nonprofit is making, then you are probably making one in communities you serve. Their perspective regarding the impact of your nonprofit programs is a very important litmus test.

One way to know how your donors really feel about what you do is to check how often they give a repeat grant, gift or donation to your cause. According to the 2018 Burk donor survey report, 87% of funders would give again if a previously funded project made the difference they wanted to see.

Pointer Three: Beneficiaries Can Tell

You set out to solve a problem and address a need in a specific target population. You were honestly convinced that your target population could use some change in the area that your organization is working in. You’ve convinced a few donors that they could trust you to make the much-needed change happen. But one thing may be missing: does your target population consider your service a priority. And if they do, would they honestly say—without fear or favor—that the services you provide are making the difference they’ve been set up to make?

As a nonprofit executive or program lead, you can argue that this is the case because you have worked hard on it, but what use is an effort if the beneficiary cannot confidently say the effort was worth it?

What You Can Do Now

If you are not meeting the expectations of these three categories of stakeholders, you probably want to take a pause and re-visit the drawing board. That’s what outstanding nonprofits do. Here are a few things you can do immediately:

  1. Mobilize to create clarity around organizational, team- level, and individual- level vision & mission. Bring your team together to brainstorm and build consensus on why your nonprofit and/or program team exist. And don’t forget to sit back and take some time to do a self-brainstorm as well.
  2. Become more intentional about ensuring that what you and your team do every day bring your nonprofit a step closer to its mission and vision.
  3. Take the time to get into the minds of your donors and your target beneficiaries. If you don’t have the capacity to do this in-house, invest in a consultant to make this happen for you. You’ll be glad you did.
  4. Invest in a Monitoring, Evaluation & Learning System to keep tabs on your program processes and outcomes.

Don’t hesitate to drop your thoughts and questions in the comments box below. Tell me what knots you struggle with, and what you’ve done to make your endeavors worth your effort.

To Working Strategies and Authentic Results.

It’s Chinnie & Team

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2 Comments

  1. Will

    Thanks for posting this awesome article. I’m a long time
    reader but I’ve never been compelled to leave a comment. I subscribed to your blog and
    shared this on my Facebook. Thanks again for a great post!

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