Impact over Efficiency

    Yesterday I had the chance to sit down for a beer with a few colleagues, among them Tom Harvey, and we got to talking about something that I think has a lot of bearing to a lot of organizations looking for funding in this giving climate. It’s hard to sell efficiency, it’s easy to sell impact.


    Efficiency as a goal is kind of a trap. There are a lot of pressures out there telling you that you need the best ratio of overhead to program spending that you can manage, and even a few examples of nonprofits that have been brought low by high overheads. The problem is that struggling to keep your belt tight is no guarantee that funding will follow. At best, it’s considered a bare minimum to keep your program running as efficiently as possible. At worst, you hamstring yourself by overstraining a small staff.

    Now, I am by no means anti-efficiency. We are all stewards of public funds and we have a responsibility and an opportunity to use that position to accomplish the most good. What I would advocate against is holding up efficiency as one of the primary draws of your program. Funders are right to want to give their money to a well-run program, but you won’t get people knocking down your door just by saying your program is well-run. What you need is measurable impact.

    Wherever you can, I advocate measuring the impact-the good that your program has accomplished in the community. It’s impact that will allow funders to form a connection to your work and want to support it. Nothing puts you in a better position to secure support than being able to prove that you’re making a difference.