When pursuing deep social impact, an important part of the journey is creating space to reflect on what you have done, where you are currently, and where you would like to go. The reflection process doesn’t always come with a roadmap, which means it can be challenging yet rewarding. Through our evaluation work with donors, we know measuring the results of philanthropic efforts can be difficult. We often say one of the most important goals is to listen and learn, and to use key learnings to inform future strategies and directions. We encourage all funders to reflect on your efforts, assess where you are, and share what you learn along the way. As part five of our “30 Lessons” blog series, based on our 30th anniversary publication 30 Lessons in Pursuit of Deep Social Impact, we offer five lessons on reflection, assessment, and sharing.
Take time for reflection and future planning
Be sure to step back every few years to look at what is being accomplished and whether there are smarter ways to work or better paths to follow. If you learn to approach philanthropy with a beginner’s mind, reflection can happen at regular intervals along the way. It can also be helpful to take an intentional brief pause and undergo a more in-depth reflection and assessment process. Either way, reflection is always helpful in shaping future work.
Keep evaluations practical and relevant
Understand what you want to learn and how you will use it. Measuring the effectiveness of your philanthropy is daunting, and it’s good practice to incorporate evaluation from the beginning. By regularly assessing progress towards your philanthropic goals, you can work to continually improve your results and leverage greater impact.
Don’t lose the forest for the trees
Keep your eye on the bigger picture – your long-term vision and goals. Don’t limit evaluations to individual projects or grantee organizations. While funders regularly assess individual nonprofits as potential grantees, it is helpful to keep reflection focused on overarching strategies. How are your efforts contributing to your greater goals? Considering the answer to this question can be incredibly rewarding.
Distinguish between attribution and contribution
Philanthropic support is rarely the only variable resulting in a particular outcome, but it can certainly contribute in important ways. Consider partnerships with other funders, nonprofits, collaboratives, government, and others. Is your philanthropy playing the right role at any given time? Do you have resources beyond conventional grantmaking that can contribute to progress?
Share and learn from successes – and failures
There remains much to be learned about social change. Strengthen the field by sharing lessons learned including successes and setbacks. Practice open-source philanthropy. Social change is not the result of one funder or one organization’s work. A networked community of experiences lies behind long-term impact. And failures can offer critical insights for donors and nonprofits alike. Share, listen, and learn.
Leslie Pine is managing director at the Philanthropic Initiative
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- 30 lessons in pursuit of deep social impact: finding vision, refining focus, and determining goals