The Future of Impact: How Technology is Changing the Game

09/14/2016

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Whether you call it “all hands on deck” or “all oars in the water,” it has always made sense to me that we employ all the tools at our disposal to stanch the flow of intractable problems we face as a society.

As I arrived this morning at SOCAP16, the Social Capital Markets Conference in San Francisco, I was buoyed with optimism to see so many impact investors, social entrepreneurs, and foundation grantmakers in one place at one time.

But the pathway from investment to impact is still littered with roadblocks and detours – inefficient processes, outmoded systems, and insufficient capacity – particularly when it comes to evaluating the impact of our investments.

The good news: Technological advances are making it easier than ever before for funders of all stripes to work seamlessly in a near frictionless environment.

The future of philanthropic impact is becoming a transparent, data-driven and ultimately a more connected space – powered by technology. The often-debilitating disconnect between social investors or grantmakers and their beneficiaries will continue to shrink with the help of the smart use of technology. In this way, money, time, and other resources will go where they’re needed most, and funders will have the opportunity to learn and share information and data with each other like never before.

But how do we know our investments are working?

Social investors and grantmakers are comfortable with the idea of collecting and tracking data in an age where there has never been more data available. But what’s more difficult is making sense of all that data in effort to evaluate impact.

There is a huge opportunity to extract meaningful insight from the ever growing amount of philanthropic data that now exists. Opening an incoming and outgoing stream of programmatic data, evaluation data, and publicly available data allows funders to get a clearer picture of what impact their investments are making. It also enables them to collaborate better – both with their grantees and other investors and stakeholders – for the greatest possible chance at needle-moving impact.

With all this data at their fingertips, it’s important for investors to begin to apply data and evaluation best practices in the ongoing effort to define, track, achieve, and ultimately improve impact. For example, to achieve real impact it’s critical to make a distinction between what the grant intends to do (outputs) and what it intends to achieve (outcomes). And it’s extremely important to track not only quantifiable metrics but also qualitative data that add valuable context and nuance for more insightful data storytelling.

What’s more, to truly begin to dig into the data and extract actionable intelligence, funders need to be able to look across an entire family of grants or investments over many years – to connect grant-by-grant data with cluster-level evaluation.

Again, the good news: Technology is making this easier to do than ever before.

The right technology can now provide everyone from individuals and corporations to nonprofits and foundations the tools to make giving more impactful and data-driven. For me, it’s about igniting impact. If technology can make resources (time, money, labor) more accessible and more powerful, and it can help us measure our progress, it’s our obligation to leverage it.

Charitable giving is on the rise, reaching an all-time high of more than $358 billion in 2015. As giving increases, so too should our demand for accountability, efficiency, and impact. When we combine these demands with rapid technological advances, we're poised to see an era where philanthropic dollars make unprecedented impact. We’re that close.

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Written by Jason Ricci

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