The Importance of Impact

Ask a nonprofit professional what his or her nonprofit does and the answer will undoubtedly be a litany of the activities the organization performs.  It’s not surprising, therefore, that most appeals for support focus on the needs of the organization in order to implement these tasks.  It’s all so very inward looking and as such, often puts your donors precisely where you don’t want them:  On the outside looking in.

What if, instead, that nonprofit professional talked about the impact or outcomes of the work they do?  And if appeals thought about the accomplishments their donors imagined?  I suspect rather more prospects would become donors and more donors would repeat their acts of generosity.

We all know that the story of one person is easier to understand and care about than huge numbers and raw data.  Hearing about the outcome of the work the nonprofit does—what it means to that one person—brings it closer to home.  That, in turn, makes it real.  And real makes it something you want to fund.

Real, however, to the donor.  And that means understanding who your donors are and why they care about your organization.  Real also means speaking in a language they can understand and which has meaning.

If I hear about one more school that “nurtures” its students; social service agency that works with “at risk” youth or “underrepresented” populations, I may just have to scream.  I’ve been at this for many, many years, and really, enough is more than enough.

Can we just talk about what we do and why we do it?  Kids who don’t know how to add and subtract numbers, can’t read or understand all but the simplest words, certainly don’t face a bright future.  So how many students actually learn those skills?  What has it meant one, two, five…ten years out?

What has your program accomplished (achieved, completed, done) and what does that mean to your clients, the neighborhood, the larger community?  Great, you’ve fed 50,000 people.  And yes, that by itself tells a story.  But  what has been the effect on them, on society, on their children and looking forward to their children’s children.

Maybe nothing.  Perhaps your impact is purely local and immediate.  There is nothing wrong with that…and there are those who will care precisely for that reason.  So tell that story and don’t pretend, for example, that you are “breaking the cycle” of poverty if, in fact, you are not.

Measure what you are accomplishing.  Show how that makes a real difference.  Talk about the outcomes and be honest what that means.  Let’s let go of jargon and words that are meaningless.  Let’s commit to telling our stories and explaining why they truly matter. And let’s remember that a lot of little baby steps can get you a long way and impact doesn’t have to be huge to be important.


Janet Levine works with nonprofits, helping them to increase their fundraising capacity so they can continue to take steps large and small to impact their clients, their communities and their world.  Learn more at




About janetlevineconsulting

For over 20 years, Janet Levine has worked for and with nonprofit and educational organizations, helping to grow their advancement programs. Her consulting company, Janet Levine Consulting, serves a wide range of organizations from small, all-volunteer agencies to major national organizations. She regularly teaches courses in non-profit management, fundraising and grant development, both face-to-face and online at In addition to her nonprofit work, Janet brings years of experience as a business and sales manager in the for-profit sector. She has an MBA from the Graziadio School of Business at Pepperdine University.
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