Making Meaningful Progress with Year-End Impact Reporting

Dec 21, 2023 | Nonprofits, Strategy & Execution

Are we even making the impact we advertise?

Do you resonate with that doubt?

As we approach the end of another year, many leaders spent the last month knee-deep in year-end requests, reports, and fundraising activity. Between balancing countless spreadsheets, surveys, and team reports, it’s understandable to experience uncertainty, burnout, and growth anxiety.

Why is this so hard?

Are our activities, training sessions, and multitasking efforts genuinely impactful?

Do you ever feel like this new year will be the year your funders, friends, and network realize the gaps in your reports?

If you know me, you know I’m not one for overdramatic claims, but we’ve considered and researched these issues after hearing the strain underlying the work of so many we encounter. The amount of work isn’t what steals our joy, but that nagging lack of meaningful progress. It sucks our hope and confidence away like some dementor of doubt coming for all of us. This leads us to produce less than we desire, and desire reprieves from our work instead of inspiring growth and sustained hope.

Underneath our busy days, we recognize our need for drastic improvement, but know it’s always been an afterthought.

We all want better impact reporting, but why do we expect clear reports without a clear process?

As the head of programs, your role involves supervising activities and evaluating program effectiveness, but managing that impact with coordinated processes and systems rarely takes priority. Year-end demands highlight this lack of investment in program management, fueling doubts and questions about your real impact.

This lack of a high-level, holistic impact perspective, cultivates growth anxiety instead of excitement for the future. Do you feel excitement or worry about expansion?

Why is impact reporting more challenging than other parts of our work? Compare the details and differences between your financial reports and program this year-end season. While summarizing finances requires effort, it’s straightforward. We know how much money we receive and how much we spend. Planning next year may foster doubts on whether we’ll be able to reach the target revenue, but there isn’t a lack of clarity in the goal itself.

By contrast, our program numbers are all over the place. Each team has a different metric they call outcome, but actual success measurement rarely digs deeper than the total count of interactions or completed trainings. Even these numbers may not be accurate due to disparate tracking methods across several Google Sheets.

Do you identify or feel any of these perspectives?

  • You lack confidence in your holistic numbers after seeing the number of source documents or spreadsheets.
  • You feel frustrated with how difficult compiling simple year-end numbers turned out to be.
  • You wish for more real outcome data, measured life change in your community? (Net outcome numbers beyond reach, training, etc.)
  • You waited until the end of the year to gather impact feedback and hope for more monthly or quarterly clarity in 2024.

Why do we feel these?

It’s simple, we don’t truly know our progress toward our stated mission with the same clarity in other areas. Our lack of a defined process creates this disparity between financial clarity and impact assessment. Financial reviews are a well-trodden path, with established structures, standardized processes, and readily available tools. You can see exactly how much money came in and how much was spent with disciplined monthly reconciliation.

However, year-end program and impact reviews tell a different story. There’s no equivalent of the “Statement of Income” in your accounting software. The path is obscured by a lack of standardization, disparate data sources, and the absence of clear impact frameworks. And the concept of regular monthly reconciliations within your impact systems seems like a fantasy.

Where’s your true north in impact?

There’s a way to build process and intention within your impact operations. It begins by realizing this is something that takes active management and the small investment of time and resources you give to monitoring and evaluating just isn’t enough.

Monitoring and evaluation (M&E) should be seen as only a support to your holistic impact management approach. Invest in a fully integrated impact management approach, or you will never transform your organization and you will come to next December feeling the same doubts.

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