Before your nonprofit drafts its next strategic plan, I urge you to take a few minutes and grab a blank sheet of paper. First: Map out which organizations out there are doing similar work. Then consider: What will your team uniquely bring to this issue?
In short: What will your measurable impact be?
That answer should guide everything – your business strategy, your structure and staffing, your communications, your partnership outreach. Everything. It might even reveal that you’d be better off joining forces with another organization, that the space is already too crowded or that your solution is missing a critical piece.
Every day, thousands of organizations, governments and individuals work to address serious social problems – poverty, hunger, poor education, environmental degradation. This is wonderful: People are taking issues into their own hands and – in some cases – making a real impact.
But a larger question persists: Are we all going about this the right way? Are too many organizations focused on the same issues, fighting for the same resources and fundraising dollars? Are competition and a lack of cooperation ultimately holding us back?
Think about how overwhelmed donors must be. Then imagine how much stronger your case for support would be if you could offer solutions – an impact – that cuts to the heart of the issue. Imagine how much stronger your case would be if you could present a social impact “return on investment.”
When a group of us worked with Bread for the World to start the Alliance to End Hunger, our vision was to build the nonpartisan political and public will to end hunger. As vice chair and head of our development committee, I’ve seen firsthand how we’ve sometimes struggled to meet budget in a crowded anti-hunger nonprofit sector. Our “saving grace” has been our relentless focus on advocating for the best legislative solutions, such as the Global Food Security Act and a strong Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.
But our secret sauce has been using the power of “we” to advocate at the state, federal and international levels. We realized that our goal could be achieved only in partnership. Now the Alliance has almost 100 nonprofit and corporate members – organizations like Sodexo and Rise Against Hunger – whose own programs provide solutions to hunger all over the world, and whose membership dollars also support the core operations and budget of the Alliance. We’ve helped launch and support over a hundred “Hunger Free Communities” in the United States, totally run by volunteers, and we’ve “replicated ourselves” by helping to launch six international Alliances to End Hunger in Uganda and other African countries.
That was the impact we were striving toward. And we embraced it with our name – the Alliance to End Hunger. We embraced it in the way we reached out to partners and foundations, showing them exactly how their support would play a crucial role. Now our goal is to end hunger in the world by 2030, a goal shared by many others through a commitment to the Sustainable Development Goals adopted by the UN and others all around the world.
Let your goal – your impact – be your North Star. Don’t be afraid of it. Find a way to put it into words, and then let that guide everything that follows.
This post was authored by Patricia Nicklin, Executive Vice President at Reingold, a strategic communications firm dedicated to helping companies, nonprofits, and government agencies achieve social impact. Ms. Nicklin leads Reingold's work with corporate partners and nonprofits to solve serious social problems through creative collaboration. She brings a wealth of experience in shared-value partnerships, cause marketing and purpose branding, corporate social responsibility, public/private partnerships and nonprofit leadership.
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