More Than Words: Key Takeaways from J.P. Morgan and the “How” of Measurement and Impact in Philanthropy

12/19/2016

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If there is one thing the philanthropic sector doesn’t need is another “conversation” about data, measurement, and impact. We are already really good at discussing these things and identifying the challenges, convening a group to address them, or attributing blame for why we continue to struggle with them.

That’s why a recent event hosted by The Philanthropy Centre at J.P Morgan in San Francisco was such a breath of fresh air. The gathering, How to Maximize Philanthropic Impact, was squarely focused on ensuring that the ideas presented there moved beyond just “talk.”

Many times after these events, we return to our day-to-day work and continue to do the same thing we’ve been doing for years and convincing ourselves that “I’ll get to this next week” or “I’ll wait for someone to take the first step and then get involved.”

Don’t get me wrong. These conversations are critical and necessary to get us moving toward answering some really important questions. This is especially true when the discussions are about how to choose the right data or metrics, building capacities to better understand and use them, and – eventually – finding ways to share them in a meaningful, appropriate, and secure way that ensures consistency, allows for contextual differences, and protects both data owners and their subjects.  

But mostly the conversations are “one-offs” that rehash the same needs, issues, and challenges that ignore the critical first steps to understanding and using the data and measures. We promise to “keep the ball rolling,” but seldom do.  

It’s time that we begin to tackle the “how” of measurement and impact.

From the very beginning of the J.P. Morgan event planning, J.P. Morgan was committed to avoiding the “one-off” trap, and made a point to include ideas about how to keep momentum going through continued engagement, subsequent events, and ongoing collaboration. Look for more impact events in the year to come.

The main event – a data, measurement, and impact panel discussion – confirmed my belief that we were going to be moving beyond most impact conversations.

The panel discussion, moderated by Nick Tedesco (Philanthropy Centre at J.P. Morgan), featured a diverse group of high capacity philanthropists and select institutions, including Caroline Avery (Durfee Foundation), Christy Remey Chin (Draper Richards Kaplan Foundation), Christine Sherry (Sherry Consulting), Laura Hattendorf (Mulago Foundation), and Fluxx’s Chief Development Officer, Kerrin Mitchell.

In addition to discussing a new publication by J.P. Morgan and Sherry Consulting that outlines the fundamental principles of effective philanthropy (Part 1 and Part 2), the panel shared their approaches and history of measurement and impact that included discussions of the importance of incorporating their foundation’s culture and capacities into the data and measures they choose and the impact they seek to achieve.

This was music to my ears! Especially because these are the types of fundamental activities that help foundations know how to take the next step – and in some cases, the first step. It pushes us toward action – toward the development of a strategic or programmatic framework for measurement and impact.

More Key Lessons from the J.P. Morgan event.

  • We are all struggling with similar issues and challenges around impact and measurement.
  • Credible information and guidance geared toward meaningful preparation are critical for taking action.
  • Strategies for measuring and assessing impact should reflect the foundation’s culture and capacities.
  • Impact needs to scale for both the foundation and grantees.
  • Collaboration is key. Foundations need to continue working together to help their individual measurement and impact activities, but also as a way to foster collective impact.

The J.P. Morgan convening was an encouraging sign for the sector. It’s conversations like these that help us keep momentum and address the important issues of measurement and impact that help us take actionable next steps. I for one am happy to be a part of this next phase of “the conversation,” and look forward to helping push it even further. Stay tuned for more impact events from J.P. Morgan and Fluxx in 2017! This was just a first step of an ongoing journey.

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