Philanthropy is about communications, and thus about words. Like in the game Scrabble, some words are worth double or triple points. What word scores the highest in venture philanthropy? I attended three workshops out of the 23 that were offered on the second day of the EVPA conference.
The winning word, by far, is ‘impact’. I heard it over fifty times and then I stopped counting. To increase its value, ‘impact’ is associated to other words, such as ‘corporate’, ‘collective’, ‘social’, ‘global’, ‘societal’, ‘venture’, ‘efficient’, ‘strong’, etc.
For newbies (and, in fact, for professionals as well), it is rather complicated to understand. It would be useful to try to standardize the real meaning of the word. At the end of the day, the word itself looks like an empty shell; it requires some time to figure out the concept that stands behind the ‘triple word score’.
A number of participants work in that direction: Impact Reporting on Investments and Standards (IRIS), Global Impact Investment Rating System (GIIRS), Social Impact Analysts Association (SIAA), among others. The goal is to define standards common to all practitioners that work with the notion of ‘impact’. We could almost talk about ISO certification for each Scrabble word.
Is this standardization effort a good thing? Maybe. Is it feasible? Maybe not.
The most important thing is to define what we mean by ‘impact’ together with the organization that receives support, and to agree on the measuring tools that will be needed at the very start of the philanthropic project. Philanthropy differs from Scrabble because there is no winner or loser, only a shared responsibility to help those in need.
Martial Paris is programme manager for WISE-philanthropy advisors