Service delivery is at the heart of nonprofit organizations, and oftentimes, organizations equate the number of people served with success. Of course, the number of people you’ve been able to help with your services is an important factor. But when considering your success rate, there is another factor that really defines you: Impact. What kind of impact you’ve had on the community you serve is perhaps more important than the amount of people who have walked through your doors.
But what is impact and how can you track it?
Impact, simply put, is the overall change and influence your organization is having on your clients and the whole community. It’s much more than the number of clients served, it’s what you’ve been able to accomplish with these clients. Your impact can be many different things, depending on what your organization’s goals are. Say that your organization’s mission is to help at-risk youths and your service delivery includes tutoring students. An outcome of your service delivery is that more of your clients finish high school instead of dropping out. The impact you had on your clients is not only did you help them achieve their goal of finishing high school, you’ve given them hope for their future and confidence in themselves.
Being able to serve more people has an impact, but it isn’t the impact you’ve had. The influence you’ve had in their lives is your impact and being able to clearly show it can help you better help more people. It can also help your organization because funders are often just as interested in your impact as your outputs.
Defining what impact is for your organization is an important part of your service delivery, though it isn’t always an easy thing to tackle. The first step is likely one you’ve already taken: developing a mission statement. In order to have any kind of impact, you first need to know what your organization is trying to accomplish. Whether that includes trying to reduce the rate of recidivism in a community or trying to raise the rate of graduation in local teenagers, it’s hard to have any kind of impact without a clear view of what you’re trying to accomplish.
The easiest way you can see the impact you’re having is to start tracking outcomes. Step two includes developing efficient reporting methods, which involves deciding on which data to collect and report on. The better your reporting, the easier it is to see what impact your organization’s services are having. Plus, if you can better track your outcomes, it could lead to more funding opportunities, which gives your organization the chance to have an even bigger impact on the community it serves. To fully understand what data you should be collecting to best track your outcomes, read our guide on Data Your Nonprofit Should Be Tracking.
Finding the most efficient way to deliver service is the third step in the road to having a lasting impact. This is a trial-and-error method that includes seeing unintended impacts and adjusting course as needed. While it may make more sense to hold group therapy sessions, it could potentially have a negative impact on your clients. Being able to track that data and see the outcomes helps you better understand the impact you’re having on the community, and if that’s not the impact you’re hoping for, you can work to develop a new way of service delivery that leads to better outcomes and a more positive impact.
Success is not a straight path, and an important part of it is being able to see the kind of impact you’re having on the community you serve.