Moving the Needle

The phrase “moving the needle” gets a lot of play in philanthropy.  As well it should.  In my previous blog, “So What,” I observed that it is important to have a thoughtful reason for philanthropy that is designed to produce outcomes and is able to answer the question: “So what difference are we making?” Outcomes can lead to impact which is where we ultimately “move the needle” on a particular issue.

However, impact can look very different and serve varying objectives depending on the philanthropic mission, goals, breadth, depth, size and type of strategy.  Each of these factors may result in tailored outcomes and impact to suit philanthropies in any stage or state.

Gauging the effort of “moving the needle” might take a variety of forms:

  • Grantee level impact
    • Examples: the successful achievement of specified grant outcomes or grantees reaching their organizational key performance indicators.
  • Systems-level impact
    • Example: the number of new programs in a particular area or policy changes adopted.
  • Trends/Population-level impact
    • Examples: a change in the rate of air pollution or reductions in the number of homeless persons in a particular locality.
  • Developmental/Strategic Philanthropy impact
    • Examples: internal learnings on what works and what doesn’t in a strategy or whether certain characteristics tend to make grants work best for an organization.

The DeBoskey Group considers both the “so what” question and how to gauge “moving the needle” in our work and in deep conversations with clients to best define the type of philanthropy and impact that will create both strategic and satisfying results.