This is the first article in our series, The Step by Step Guide to Tracking Social Impact
Last week, I wrote about using data to tell your organization’s story. As a photographer and journalist, the importance of storytelling prevails in my thoughts. Although most organizations aren’t media focused, they have the best resource for curating a message: the people they help in their respective communities. I find that tracking social impact goes hand-in-hand with storytelling. Donors and volunteers are interested in understanding the tangible results of your work, while making personal connections with beneficiaries.
Organizations are under a lot of pressure to measure, poke, and prod each data point and extract complex analyses of this information. Yet, there is so much more to projects driving social change and development than numbers. This doesn’t detract from the importance statistical and comparative analysis have to development work. Rather, it buttresses the world occupied by interdisciplinary work. There is a distinction to be made between mechanic and humanistic measurements; in the realm of development work, there is not one without the other.
Organizations large and small can strike this harmony. Increased access to technology and social networks provide an easy DIY framework for launching campaigns to drive activism. Technology provides structure and ease to data management and social networks bolster the main driver of social change and involvement: empathy.
Development work is dependent on the human ability to empathize with one another. Without it, there would be no donors or volunteers or staff dedicated to improving the world. It might sound simplistic, but organizations delivering clear visions of the importance of their work prouces empathy and encourages others to become involved in their cause. Thereby, they deepen and amplify their impact.
Storytelling engenders empathy, which is the most intimate level of understanding. (Note empathy’s difference from sympathy — empathy is active, while sympathy is passive.)
This theoretical conjunction between the power of data and storytelling is an opportunity for project-based organizations to maximize their impact.
The first component in this amalgamation is to refine your purpose. Even if your organization engages in a diverse range of work, being concise in what it is you wish to accomplish will serve as a guide for you to curate digestible stories about what you do. Simple self-reflection and clarification illuminates the silos of information you’ll focus on collecting to write your organization’s full story.
Create an inverted timeline to achieve this:
- Ideally, what is our organization’s legacy?
- What specific work has created this legacy?
- What specific projects make up each sector of work?
- What specific groups of people are these projects helping?
- How have these projects helped those people?
- What specific groups of people make these projects possible?
- Why have those specific people been motivated to be involved in these projects?
- Why are these motivations important in a global context or how do they relate to a greater good?