Start by Asking “Why?”

Funding Insights: Start by Asking "Why?"

Start by Asking “Why?”

Nonprofit leaders are constantly hearing about how important impact and outcomes are to funders. Articles with titles like, “Study: A Nonprofit’s Impact Is the Most Significant Consideration to Funders,” and, “Why Outcomes, Not Output, Is the Key to Nonprofit Sustainability,” are everywhere.  But taking the time to look closely at and really think about your organization’s outcomes can have a much deeper impact on the way you approach your mission than simple tracking and reporting data.

When you go through the process of rethinking your outcomes for fundraising, sometimes it makes you rethink why you’re doing what you’re doing in the first place. For example, yesterday I spoke at the Domestic Violence and Homeless Services Community Connections conference in LA. While doing a training session on “Funding Your Outcomes for Housing,” this interesting exchange occurred:

Me: Who runs an emergency shelter?

Audience: Nearly all hands go up.

Me: Why?

Audience: Stunned looks throughout the room

Woman 1: To help them escape.

Me: Then what? What happens because of the escape? After all, escaping is a step, not an outcome. What does she want to have happen because she escaped?

Woman 2: She has safe shelter.

Me: And? Can she live there forever?

Audience: More stunned looks.

Me: Funders, investors, want to know how her life has changed permanently because she worked with your agency. If your goal is to help her out of the abusive relationship, what does that look like a year later for her? Do you track how many women are safe one year later? Anyone?

Audience: No hands go up.

Woman 2: We want her to be safe long-term but we can’t track that.

Woman 3 (who runs a homeless shelter): How about permanent safe shelter? That’s what we want for our residents.

Woman 1: I’d never thought of it that way.

Me: Imagine how much more effective your services would be if you had as the stated outcome of all you do, a safe, stable home instead of merely escape.

Woman 1: We would do everything differently.


Precisely. It’s time for that change.

About the author

Carol Wick

For more than 25 years, Carol Wick has made a career of working in the nonprofit sector. She is an innovative leader with a proven track record in the development of system-wide collaborative partnerships, strategic development of programs practices, evidence-based programs, and successful fundraising.