Recognizing success can be elusive. And staff, who are closest to the “action”, are often least aware of how their work and their organization are making a difference.
I know this is counterintuitive, as evaluation and planning are so much of our work. Here is a story to illustrate my point.
During interviews with staff and board members of a national public health organization, I asked how it had “moved the needle” in support of its mission over the past five years. Staff were stumped and could not offer one instance – including the CEO! Board members, on the other hand, listed nearly 30 examples of how the organization’s work generated significant public benefit.
Truisms Die Hard
There is a saying in public health circles – “harm averted is benefit unseen.” This notion could not be more relevant today, as we cope with the coronavirus pandemic. While it is believed and proven that funds spent on prevention can prevent much more expensive medical costs, this truth is conveniently and regularly ignored by policy and law makers. As a result, over the past 40 years, there has been a steady decline in public health funding. It is a hard lesson learned.
Just think where we would now be if the National Security Council Pandemic Response Team had not been dismantled by the Trump administration. Spend a few million here to save a few trillion there, not to mention tens of thousands of lives and millions of livelihoods.
Shine on Mission-Progress
You and your organization may be in a similar circumstance. We know it is important to communicate with donors and stakeholders about the mission-progress you are making because of their philanthropic support. You need to share how your organization is generating positive effects in the lives of your constituents – personally and writ large. Examples of mission-progress should also include “harm averted” by your work, including unseen and often unmeasurable benefits.
Shine a light on benefits unseen so your donors can see them.
Reach out to your donors and stakeholders and ask them to tell you why they think your organization is important and makes a difference. Turn the tables and ask them instead of hoping they read about it in your newsletter. You will be surprised and likely delighted with what you hear from them, and it will be an opportunity to get to know them even better.
Your lens may be clouded by day-to-day work, while many on the outside will have a clearer view of how your organization is changing lives … information for you to share with your co-workers, donors, and stakeholders.
1. When planning and budgeting, do not be a penny wise and a pound foolish.
2. Freshen-up and expand your messaging with insights from donors and stakeholders.
3. Think of mission-progress both in terms of what is measurable and what cannot be directly measured – benefit unseen.