When Evidence Is an Anecdote

As you know, donors are becoming more discerning. They remain willing to provide token support for nonprofits whose causes are important to them but they reserve their generous support for the nonprofits that can prove they create value for their communities and have meaningful, measurable, and durable impacts on their clients.

There are many national nonprofits who have made significant investments in collecting data that demonstrate the durable impact their programing has on the lives of their clients. For many of those organizations the data is quite compelling, which explains why they are able to attract multi-million dollar donations on a regular basis.

Many other nonprofits use standardized programs like the local agencies of the national organizations do. The well-defined and statistically-verified results and outcomes from those standardized programs create a compelling argument for support. However, donors are beginning to question the applicability of the results to their local market. Unless the local agency can provide evidence that they meet or exceed the national results, the donor is justified to be concerned about the effectiveness of their gift. Without local statistics, the national statistics are anecdotal rather than evidential.

Local nonprofits are tempted to explain why their results differ from the national or standard results. Sometimes the donors accept the explanations. For example, even though the operating costs in NYC are higher, if 1,000 clients are served every month in NYC and only 75 are served in your community, the cost in your community might be higher per client. That is a reasonable explanation that can be supported by data. However, with increasing frequency, donors are disappointed. They recognize the scale and local conditions can affect results but the clients in every community need the same results.

Collecting the evidence necessary to create a compelling case can seem like a distraction from your mission. However, the work is necessary to demonstrate that your mission is relevant to the local needs. The compelling case will result in more generous support from your donors, which will provide funds you are currently unable to access.

Before you start collecting evidence, speak with your donors. Ensure that you are going to collect the data that they find compelling. You may discover that what they want to know is different than what you anticipated. Once you know what the donors want, tell them what it will take (time, talent, and resources) to collect the data then ask them to fund the research. If they are unwilling to fund the research it is an indication of the lack of importance of the data. Before you start collecting the data, ensure your nonprofit is committed to keeping it up to date once you have established a baseline.

Next Step:

Ensure that you have evidence of your programing’s effectiveness, the durability of the change your program makes in your clients’ lives, and the value your mission provides to your community

Encourage your donors to help you decide which data points are the most relevant and compelling for your nonprofit

Ensure your donors will provide the support you need to collect and report the data they want

Once you have your baseline, you may discover that your donors feel your results are less than they expected. This is your opportunity to lay out your plan for increasing your program’s effectiveness. Of course, that plan will need their support also, which should be easy to obtain since they want your mission to be effective and they want the clients to be successful.

As you work with your donors to strengthen your programing and evidence gathering, ensure the data your donors want to see demonstrates that your mission is making meaningful, measurable, and durable differences in your clients’ lives. Remind the donors that increasing the impact of your mission on your clients’ lives will attract additional support from your community. The additional community support will help fund your programing (reduce pressure on your current donors for support) while increasing the sustainability of your funding stream and your nonprofit. It will also add to your financial strength.

Take It Further:

Use the change in number of donors and donor loyalty, generosity, and engagement (increase in the sustainability of your funding stream and nonprofit) to determine the effectiveness of your evidence

Find national or regional statistics to use as a comparison so your donors will be confident that your nonprofit is committed to excellence


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