What does it mean to have IMPACT?

Published on LinkedIn Influencers on September 23, 2013

Statistics reveal that in 2012 over $316 billion was donated to charity in the United States alone. There were 120,810 private foundations in 2010 with assets of $582 billion. Philanthropy is both something we do every day in choosing to help and serve others, and it is a huge business. The business of trying to do good. With non-profit companies continuing to provide increasingly vital services, they rely mostly on the generosity of individual donors, foundations, and other grants, but with over 1.5 million non-profit organizations registered in the United States, simply donating money can be a daunting task filled with overwhelming options. That is why many foundations are increasingly hiring professional staff members to help them be effective. Staffed or not, when we asked many women who are giving at the million dollar level what they were hoping to achieve with their giving the most common answer was this. They wanted IMPACT!

This word has gained so much prominence in the world of philanthropy that Women Moving Millions decided to make it the theme of this year’s Annual Summit in New York City. I have just returned from this Summit, and a three-day journey through The Story of Impact + The Impact of Story, and I literally can’t sleep because my brain cannot stop thinking about everything that was discussed this past week. In particular, participants of the Summit looked at the concept of impact in regards to philanthropy, looking at why people give their time, treasure and talent to help others, and what they hope to achieve through this giving. We were challenged to think about how individually we might be having impact, but also how we might as a collective. Our summit opener was no other than Gloria Steinem who asked us the question “what can we together than cannot be done separately?” Then thankfully she left us with a ‘to do’ list.

When curating this unique summit we did some of our own research on what leaders in philanthropy had to saw about IMPACT but quickly recognized we needed to pull in some outside expertise. We approached the Center For High Impact Philanthropy to see if they could find a definitive definition for the term impact, and whether or not impact could be measured in terms of philanthropy. The result is a report titled What Are We Talking About When We Talk About Impact?, a summary of which can be found here, and this report served as the launching pad for our discussions this past week in New York. Almost 100 leaders in private, corporate and institutional philanthropy were present.

Drawing its information from research, expert opinion, and field experience, this report sets out to examine the many different views of impact in philanthropy, and not surprisingly, the resulting findings reveal that there are currently many different conflicting definitions of impact, as well as the actions and change needed to achieve it. While this report yielded many insights as it studied the many misunderstandings that surround the relationship between action and change, there are a couple that stand out.

One significant insight is the description of the difference between outcomes and impact, as this was the one area where the most commonality could be found among the many different opinions. By examining the publicly available materials of non-profit organizations and foundations, this report discovered that most of these mandates distinguish between the more short term and definitive outcomes, and the more long term and abstract impact when describing their philanthropy goals. Organizations often produce easily measurable outcomes, such as 100 meals served or 50 schools receiving educational materials, but the impact of these outcomes can sometimes take years to manifest. They pointed out how important it is to understand the difference between outcomes and impact, because while donors may want to achieve impact, it is an inherently human trait to respond to the more immediate outcomes. A clear example is the incredible giving that happens after natural disasters. Is responding to that need awesome and makes a huge difference? Yes of course, but what we are talking about here is a both/and. Therefore, when thinking in terms of giving, it is important to always keep the overall impact of the outcomes in mind when deciding where to donate.

Even more importantly, this report reminds us that some of the biggest social changes occur when nothing actually changes, and instead, the charitable works succeed in maintaining the status quo. This is particularly relevant today when considering the work of women’s rights advocates in fighting against the restrictive health care measures that have recently been enacted in many states. Furthermore, the report points out that when outcomes do turn out to be ineffective, this does not necessarily indicate that the action was ineffective, but rather it is often the case that the interests of donors do not necessarily fall in line with the goals of the organizations, thereby creating an unintended barrier to success.

Finally, the report describes how actions that are undertaken with the goal of positive change can sometimes produce negative change instead. Not all impact is positive! This often occurs when philanthropic organizations operate in what is described as a top down manner, meaning that the goals of the donors are pursued without any input from the intended audience or beneficiaries. Alarmingly, this has been found to be particularly true in the philanthropic area of advancing women and girls, where many organizations fail to include female voices in the conversation about how to enact positive change. The report proposes an alternative strategy, described as the bottom up approach to philanthropy (though maybe the better terms are human-rights based, respectful and inclusive, holistic and sustainable), where the designated recipients are included in all levels of planning for the intended action for change. This would result in a more efficient process of giving, and would ensure that all resources are being used to their full potential. People ask me this all the time – “Jacki, as the CEO of an community of 200 women ( and a few good men) that give at the $1 million plus level what is the common feature of their philanthropy or theory of change?” This would be it. Many give and invest with a deep and profound sensitivity to understanding the needs and wants of the people they are hoping to assist and serve. We believe that this approach is absolutely necessary for high IMPACT and is why we are creating a report that illuminates this approach and features the stories of people you are doing this to tremendous impact. (Please contact the Women Moving Millions office for more information on this.)

So what do we gain from these insights? We know that successful philanthropy is so much more than just writing a check, but have we made it too complicated? While it is important to have specific measurements to gauge whether or not our resources are being spent wisely, how do we quantify the long-term social change that we wish to enact? If anything, this report reveals that there will never be a definitive agreed upon definition of impact giving, but the report does leave us with some sound advice. It suggests that before embarking on your own personal journey of impact philanthropy, ask yourself the following three questions:

  1. What is the difference I want to make?
  2. Is this difference meaningful to the intended beneficiaries?
  3. How will I determine if I am moving in the right direction towards making that difference?

By asking yourself these questions, the report predicts that you will engage in a more meaningful and significant dialogue that will hopefully give you the tools needed to achieve your giving goals. Sounds good, right? Let’s take it one step further and allow me to make this personal.

This past week I couldn’t wait to meet Molly Melching, founder of the organization Tostan, who was coming to be speak on the last day of the WMM Summit, and one of the reason for my eagerness was due to a quote I had read from Melinda Gates, one of the most high profile philanthropists in the world. In describing the day she met Molly, Melinda says, “I have not thought the same way about the work I do at the Gates Foundation since that day.” I wondered what it was about Molly that could inspire such a reaction from Melinda Gates, and I couldn’t wait to find out. Molly’s session was this past Saturday and I now know what Melinda meant, as simply listening to this amazing woman and her theory of how to enact change has changed my life. Her theory of change is exactly what this report made reference to.

What they do is have programs that puts rural communities in Africa in charge for their own future. Their approach is human-rights based, respectful and inclusive, holistic and sustainable. The outcomes have been amazing and need to be read to be believed. What was the GAME CHANGER for me was that I so clearly saw how it is the process that is most important and leads to the outcomes. What also became additionally clear to me is how important the leadership of an organization is. In Molly’s case she is both the founder and the leader and thus I can be 100% sure that she is holding her team accountable to implementing that process. If I were to order what I think is important in choosing an organization I would list process or theory of change first, leadership and team second and indicators of success third.

So here are my revised list of questions that I am now going to use when I am in dialogue with organizations about a major gift. (And I define myself as a social change funder.) These questions are numerous, but some key ones for me are: What is the outcome this organization is hoping to achieve? How do they define success and over what time frame? What is their theory of change? Do I understand it? Does it make sense? Do I connect with and trust the leader of the organization to make it happen? Do I feel like they are trying to sell me something or have me buy into something? (hopefully the latter) I often ask them about their failures and what they have learned from them? What is your biggest challenge in doing the work that they do? After asking all of these questions, and absorbing the answers, am I excited to be jumping on board? When I ask them what I can do to help them advance their mission do they give me an honest and clear answer? Please notice that the question “what percentage of revenues go to operating expenses? is NOT ON THAT LIST AND NEVER WILL BE.” As for the gift to Molly I pledged on the spot – “She had me at hello.”

The term impact investing may have only been coined in 2007, but the idea of wanting to make a positive difference in the lives of others in this world is as old as time. Whether you are a multi-million dollar foundation, or a young child about to make your first charitable donation, everyone wants to know that their money will be put to good use. Last year, $316 billion was given in the US with the hope of creating a positive change in this world. I am not suggesting that every $1 you give should come with a million questions, but this does mean that organizations you give your money to should not have great answers to them and be held accountable for delivering against the metrics THEY THEMSELVES suggest are the right ones. Their websites and outreach materials should have clear messaging as it relates to their theories of change, their goals, their success measurement and one of the things we hope to do at Women Moving Millions over time is help to make best practices in capturing that impact available for organizations to learn from each other.

One of the long term IMPACTS of the Federal Reserve continuing to “print money” to feed economic growth is that each dollar will do less for us. Our money is being devalued. Now is the time to think deeply about how our limited resources that flow to incredible organizations doing incredible work might have the greatest impact. Though hard to define let’s trust ourselves to know it when we see it and feel it, and trust in the leadership of organizations with a thoughtful theory of change. Yes, measurement is important, but let’s not confuse what we can measure with an outcome of positive social change. At the end of day giving should give us joy and the science is now saying it does in fact do just that.

PS – I thought our summit was going to be about IMPACT but really it was all about connectedness. Connectedness is what leads to IMPACT. That will be one of my next pieces.

Join us for an ongoing conversation about impact at #WMMimpact and follow us on twitter for updates at @wommovmillions. Also and #impact.

I Have Been Asking All The Wrong Questions!

question-markI woke up early this morning having just returned from six full and crazy days in New York City. The last three days were spent at our Women Moving Millions Annual Summit.  I tried really hard not to wake up early as I landed more sleep deprived than any time in my life, but since I knew I was likely going to experience idea driven insomnia, I put a notebook beside my bed. Not just any book, but the RED WMM one that I had been feverishly writing notes in for the past six days. Feverishly. You know  you have attended something special when you break out that second note-book on the way home because your computer is not available during take-off and landing.

So I grasped around in the dark to find that pen and paper and start scribbling madly what I just dreamt about.  Am I the only one whose nightmares are not about getting eaten by a lion or some such thing but rather waking up knowing I had a BRILLIANT insight, idea or to do item and then not being able to remember it the next morning? So what woke me up this morning was a head full of questions, and this was the last one before my eyes popped open – WHY in the heck have I been asking all the wrong questions for so long? I wrote only that one in my book, then laid my head back down. Nope, sleep was not gonna happen so I leaned over and started writing down all the wrong questions I could remember from my dream. When it was obvious there was no going back I climbed out of bed, grabbed the damn book, and headed for the coffee maker.

So the right question for the question above is “what was I doing that made be wake up after three hours of sleep, after 4 days of not having more than 4 hours of sleep each night?” The answer is that I was in New York having meetings with people to talk about what I do which is help mobilize unprecedented resources for the advancement of women and girls. The context I do that in is AS CEO of Women Moving Millions and the President of our family foundation. I went from two days of solid back-to-back meetings, to our board meeting, to our three-day annual summit which ended yesterday at 1 pm. I then had another flurry of meetings followed by a five-hour plane ride where I vomited thoughts and ideas in to my book and computer (I have never typed so fast). The dude beside me was like ‘ what the heck is wrong with you?” The better question would have been “what are you writing so feverishly about?” ( you can see how this can get annoying very quickly) So I arrived at 1:30 EST to my home in Utah, wrote for another two hours, and then thinking I had it all, went to bed.

So of all the things that I wrote in my red notebook over the past few days, and puked in to my computer why is this the article I am writing first? (I literally have about 20 articles/blogs/personal journal entries waiting for me to share including one on “Why do I have this unrelenting need to share?” Another is “Why don’t we do what Gloria Steinem just told us we should and could?” she was a guest and a speaker at our event ) The reason is that what got me thinking about the question, of bad questions, was a good question. Instead of starting our summit by asking people to stand up and say a few words about themselves, we asked everyone to stand up and answer this question: “what are you hoping is the outcome of this gathering for you ( in one word)?”

In other words – “What are you seeking from this experience?” We then expanded it a little inviting each person, one by one, to stand up and introduce themselves using the following format: “my name is ______. I am and always will be a _____ and I am seeking ___.”

This opening question shifted so much that followed in such a profound way and is one of the reasons why I left having to write pages and pages and pages about what I learned, and now have to do. ( then of course we had three days of amazing conversations, speakers, and panels)

So all of THAT will all be fodder for many articles to follow but allow me to share all the questions I scribbled in the dark then expanded over many cups of coffee. Some are questions to ask others, and many are to ask only yourself. Please add your own to the comment section and let’s all learn together how to ask much better questions!!!! Good questions help to to think about why we believe what we believe, help us to know what we know, help us to know what we don’t know, help us to own our voice, help us connect to our passion and help us to be more open to change.

So here are some  of my examples of – Not great questions / better questions. 

What do you do? What do you love to do?

Where do you live? Why do you live there?

Why are you here? What do you hope is the outcome of you being here?

Do you have children? What is your favorite thing about your child?

Tell me about yourself. Tell me something about yourself that few people know but you are ok sharing with a complete stranger

What is wrong with you? What do you love about yourself?

What can I get from you? What can I give to you?

What have you accomplished? How did you accomplish that?

What are your measurable outcomes of your work? What is your theory on how change happens?

Why am I falling asleep doing this? Why can’t I go to sleep because I am doing this?

Why is this person making me feel bad? Why am I reacting badly to this person?

Why did I let that person get away with treating me like that? Why did I not tell that person how that made me feel?

What are the lessons you have learned? How did you learn a great lesson?

Why do we want to lead with our bios? And not our passions?

What do I hope this person won’t find out about me? What do I hope this person leaves knowing about me?

Why am I talking at this person? And not listening to this person’s story?


And just some other great questions that I wrote in my notebook. I will stream these to save space.  What can we do together? Why don’t so many more people care about what I care about? What are the barriers? Why don’t people do things that lead to better outcomes? What might help them do so? If there is one thing I can do for you, what would that be? Who have you not met, that I might know, that I can introduce you to? What are the three words you would use to describe yourself? What is one idea you have that you don’t know what to do with? What is the one idea you have that you wish you had time to take forward? Why don’t you have time for that? Why are you choosing to be here instead of somewhere else? If you had to pick one person, who is your favorite person on the planet? Why am I the person that ALWAYS has to be the one asking the question after someone speaks at a gathering? Why am I never the person to put my hand up to ask a question? Does my team give me feedback on how I can be a better leader? What is the best question someone ever asked you about yourself? What is the question you hope no one ever asks you about yourself? Did I do something nice for someone today? Why don’t I think big enough? Why am I not more generous? Did someone do something nice for me and did I thank them? When someone tells me something I can do better, how do I generally react to it? Especially when it is constructive? ( tip: thank them, even if you disagree and it hurts) What is the one question, is if we had an answer to, the whole world would so much better off for? Let’s end with that one.


Women Moving Millions Annual Summit 2013

WMMI am here in New York City kicking off DAY 2 our 2nd Annual Women Moving Millions Summit!  The next 24+ hours will be packed with amazing panels, incredible speakers, and engaging events, all of which are organized around this year’s theme: The Story of Impact & The Impact of Story.

Yesterday, at our opening tea we heard from the amazing Mariane Pearl. Mariane is an accomplished journalist and was catapulted into the limelight when her husband Daniel Pearl, a journalist for The Wall Street Journal, was kidnapped and brutally murdered by a militant Islamic fundamentalist group in Pakistan in 2002. Mariane wrote a memoir, A Might Heart, celebrating the values of humanism and dignity while offering a detailed account of the investigation led in Pakistan to rescue her husband. The book won international attention and was released as a major motion picture starring Angelina Jolie. Ms. Pearl is also the author of In Search of Hope, a chronicle of her journey around the world profiling extraordinary women who are working, sometimes under threat to their lives, to bring justice and balance to our world. Ms. Pearl is the new Managing Editor of Chime For Change, a compelling new platform that curates diverse and original content and stories about women and girls, and we couldn’t be more honored to have her kick off the Women Moving Million’s Summit.

Her remarks were extraordinary. Rather than trying to make a narrative out of it all I am going to hit you with quotes, just quotes that are now foreverfied (a new word, you like it?) in my bright red WMM journal. “Gloria Steinem is perhaps one of the greatest example of a woman who helped to change the narrative. When she stepped in, it seemed like American women would forever be happy baking cupcakes. Who owns the story? Which perspective is it being told from? It makes all the difference. I never thought of myself as a feminist but as a humanist that hated injustice. Women have gone through so much that they have not been able to share. These stories need to be captured. There is so much untapped wisdom in women. Question of truth is so complicated. Cynicism is a weapon of the weak. Women can bring us a new sense of purpose. Women have passed away in silence. There stories never told. It is always about power.”

First thing this morning we will be diving into our theme of IMPACT with a welcome by none other than Gloria Steinem. It is so fitting to have Gloria kick off our Summit as she has had immeasurable impact as an activist for women’s rights, equality and social justice. During this intimate session attendees will have the opportunity to hear Gloria’s current thinking on a variety of issues, as well as answer questions.

The second session of the day is with Kate Hyde, Senior Analyst and Cecily Stokes-Prindle, Social Impact Fellow from The Center for High Impact Philanthropy.  We collaborated to create a white paper titled What Are We Talking About When We Talk About Impact?  We thought it was important to have this as a starting point for our conversation because although the word gets tossed around a lot, there really is no clear definition when it comes to philanthropy. After sharing their findings, we will ask our attendees to share their insights, which we will also be sharing with you! Follow the emerging conversation on TWITTER at #WMMImpact.

Because we are an organization that is not issue based but more movement and strategy based (think lateral and not vertical), we structured our summit that way as well.  I am honored to be moderating a panel that is very close to my heart: “Film as a Tool for Social Change.” Over the past several years I have become very involved as funder of documentary films, a Board Member for The Sundance Institute and more and it is some of the most meaningful work I have ever done. This panel will be looking at both documentary and feature films, and how they not only tell a story, but how they can illuminate complex issues, spark worldwide discussions, and inspire action. Our featured speakers include Simon Goff, Executive Director of FilmAid International, and Cara Mertes, Director of JustFilms Initiative at Ford Foundation.

The rest of todays agenda features sessions with a wide range of speakers, including many current Women Moving Millions community members who are experts in their interest areas. In addition, we have invited outstanding leaders in their fields to join us including Elizabeth Gore from the United Nations Foundation, Penny Abeywardena, Head of Girls & Women and Associate Director of Commitments at the Clinton Global Initiative, Sarah Colamarino, Vice President of Corporate Communications for Johnson & Johnson. To wrap up the day we will be kicking off our conversation about Women’s Philanthropy as we invite a team from Dalberg Global Development Advisors to share our collaborative work on the untold story of women’s philanthropy.

As I hit PUBLISH a panel on women’s capacity building is building. My head, and my heart, might truly explode!

Pictured above our team at Women Moving Millions. The most amazing young women on the planet.

Our summit will then conclude on Saturday with sessions featuring Molly Melching, founder of the human rights organization, Tostan and Susan Bales, the founder and President of The Frameworks Institute as they start the conversation on how to amplify your impact through personal story. We will wrap up the summit with a few skills building sessions with industry leaders Katie Orenstein of The OpEd Project and Kathy LeMay of Rising Change. During these skills building session we will take a closer look at fundraising and thought leadership with the goal to send our summit attendees home with the tools and resources they need to take action and create impact.

My next month of entries will be filled with lessons learned but what I know will be a magical time together. Stay tuned! If you are a social media person follow us on twitter @WomMovMillions #WMMsummit #WMMimpact

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