Measuring Outcomes & Achieving the Sustainable Development Goals

“We can end hunger around the world by 2030.”

Let that sink in for a moment. It’s a big statement, a big goal. When you consider a goal of ending hunger, you have a couple of choices. You could either think, ‘That is way too big for me to wrap my mind around,’ or you can say, ‘That’s a big goal, and I can do something to move the needle, even by one tick.’


Let’s take a step back. Why are we discussing big goals?


In 2015, the United Nations launched the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)—also known as the Global Goals—to change the world for the better and leave no one behind by 2030. This 15-year initiative aims to tackle 17 areas of need across the world, from eradicating hunger to fostering responsible production and consumption to ensuring everyone has access to a quality education.

Across these 17 goals are 232 targets and indicators designed to be guideposts, acting as gauges to tell us how well we’re making progress toward achieving the goals. Translation: outcomes measurement. This is so much more than the UN pointing at a North Star – with the emphasis on outcomes tracking baked into the SDGs framework, we have the indicators to see if we’re on track to achieving social change with a ready-made formula to measure success.


Do the SDGs Apply in the United Kingdom?


Now, back to our big “end hunger” goal. If that feels too daunting, and almost like you’re trying to change the world all at once, what if we said this instead:


We can end hunger in your city by 2030.


That feels different, doesn’t it? One of the sentiments I have been hearing from funders over the past several months is how hard it is to align your mind with something when it’s presented as such a huge global issue. Instead of tackling an issue for the whole world, what if we thought about it in a closer context? The SDGs have to do with achieving social change around the corner just as much as they do with achieving social change around the world.

There’s plenty to do to make change ‘around the corner.’ Something like ending hunger isn’t a challenge that’s confined to developing nations. In fact, in 2016 600,000, including more than 150,000 children, lived in food-insecure households.

If we look at some of the other goals, we begin to see that “global” doesn’t have to mean “across the globe.” Ending poverty on a global level doesn’t have to start someplace else – there were over 4.6 million people living in persistent poverty in the UK between 2010-13. Or, with the goal of supporting good health and well-being, the UN isn’t restricting this to certain nations or areas in the world. When we consider that Cancer Research UK projected that there would be 350,000+ new cases of cancer diagnosed in 2014 as just one health-centric data point in the UK, it’s clear we have so much more progress to make right here at home.


At this point, you may be thinking, ‘The SDGs are worthy goals, but I can’t veer away from what I’m already doing in my work.’

As you’re reading this, you may be leading a health foundation striving to provide greater access to quality healthcare for the people you serve. You may be a grant maker sitting in a community foundation, convening local change-makers to address issues like ending hunger, addressing inequality, or creating economic opportunities. You may be reading this in between reviewing grant applications to support responsible production and consumption or to take action against climate change. You may be part of a non-profit running a local food bank, doing your part to make sure no one goes hungry in your city.


Here’s the kicker: if any of those descriptions scratch the surface of what you’re doing in your work, you are already supporting the SDGs.


The only adjustment I’d encourage you to make – if you haven’t done so already – is to acknowledge that your change-making work is fundamentally part of this global effort. What the SDGs have given us is a way to recognise that these big goals apply in our own backyard as much as anywhere else in the world. The Global Goals are everyone’s goals.


2030 is Around the Corner


When I say that the SDGs apply “around the corner,” I mean locality as much as I mean the clock is ticking. 2030 may sound like a far-off date, but it’s closer than you might think. We’re already in the third year of the SDGs, and we still have lots of progress to make.

While we don’t yet have an exact format or collection mechanism at the global level to capture and share SDGs progress data, there is no time to waste in ensuring you are as prepared as possible to provide your results data to contribute to the emerging global impact story.


Unless we have the data to depict our progress, how will we know if we’re making a dent in achieving the goals?


At the same time, as you bolster your ability to track and measure the results of your funding and investments against the SDGs targets, you’ll set yourself up to be a better collaborator for change. As more and more individuals and organisations recognise a shared commitment to achieving the SDGs, it will be crucial that each participant across the spectrum of social good speaks the same language. A goal of ending hunger could never rest on one set of shoulders alone. Big issues like the ones the Global Goals are addressing require multi-sector, multi-stakeholder input and effort. With multiple stakeholders across sectors, there’s incredible opportunity to collaborate for change.


However, if each participant talks about and measures the results of their giving in a different way, you may dilute the power of what you can achieve together. When we speak a common language of giving, we set ourselves up to share apples-to-apples results data of how we’re making progress on some of the world’s biggest issues.

The clock is ticking – the more we can bring people together to truly collaborate toward achieving the goals based on a shared understanding of success indicators, the more we’ll be able to do as the calendar approaches 2030.


How to Act on the SDGs (Hint: You Already Are) 


The SDGs present a unique opportunity for the entire giving sector to get aligned on achieving a better tomorrow for our world. Never have we had a formal platform that so clearly outlines goals and targets to achieve social change with the ability to foster cross-sector and worldwide collaboration.

If you are inspired to act, the good news is that you are already well on your way. The good work you do each day to invest in making change is already inherently supportive of the SDGs. Now it’s up to you to make sure you’re positioning that good work to align with the worldwide effort to create a better world for all, near and far, today and into the future.


4 Steps to act on the 2030 Agenda:


  1. Get informed. There are lots of resources available to get acquainted with the SDGs, what they seek to achieve, and what’s being done to make progress on the 2030 Agenda. Visit the UN Sustainable Development Knowledge Platform or try taking our SDGs true/false quiz to explore the goals.


  1. Familiarise yourself with the SDGs indicators. Spend some time reviewing the SDGs targets within the goals that align with your focus areas to see how the work you’re already doing could be contributing to achieving SDGs results. Speak with your partners and colleagues about the indicators relevant to you to ensure you’re on the same page about measuring progress from your work.


  1. Evaluate your ability to measure outcomes, not just outputs. It is more critical than ever to ensure you can measure outcomes and assess results data stemming from your investments in social good. With the enormity of the issues the SDGs seek to address, no one change-maker can achieve the goals alone. We will be best positioned to answer the question, “Are we making progress?” when each participant is speaking the same language and measuring results in an apples-to-apples way.


  1. Share your impact story.If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound? Likewise, if your organisation is making progress toward one of the SDGs and no one knows your impact story, did your change-making work move the needle? While the answer, of course, is yes, now is the time to share your results as widely as possible to build a global story of impact. As Matt Stevenson-Dodd, CEO of Street League recently said at a Blackbaud Event, “The best advice I could offer is to remind foundations to talk about the incredible work they do.”


Still wondering how the SDGs apply to you or curious about how foundations can actually measure outcomes and impact in the SDGs framework? Ask away. When it comes to achieving these big goals, the more we connect and share ideas, the more we’ll be able to accomplish.

The Art of Impact

View and download the presentations here.


On March 1st, Blackbaud hosted the latest in its ‘The Art of…’ series of evening thought leadership events. ‘The Art of Impact’ was a fascinating evening focused on demonstrating impact and outcomes as a non-profit organisation. The audience of non-profit leaders heard talks from two experts, followed by a lively Q&A.
The speakers:
Matt Stevenson-Dodd has been CEO of Street League since 2010. He’s committed to total transparency in reporting the charities successes – and where they could have done better.
David Hounsell is Head of Impact at fundraising consultancy Aleron, and was formerly Evidence and Impact Director at The Children’s Society.
Here are are some of the highlights from our speakers’ talks:


1) The charity sector is brilliant at storytelling, but…

…many charities could tell their stories more powerfully. A good story needs a good ending – an outcome if you will – and it should be the tangible, real-life impact. Take Kids Company as an (overused) example. A charity that boasted a CEO so full of life she seemed like a fictional character; a charity which spread positive messages through powerful PR and high-profile relationships. But the ignominious collapse and lack of real results hit on an important point in the sector. Sure, we can all spin a story, but when the hard questions are being asked do we have the answers? Or as Warren Buffet once said, “Only when the tide goes out do you discover who has been swimming naked.”

2) Is spreading the good news the same thing as spreading the right news?

Charities are quick to come to the conclusion that, for example, they have helped 80% of the people who went through Progamme X, or that over 1,000 16-25 year-olds were positively impacted by their work in the last 12 months. But what about the missing numbers? It’s great to share the positive stories we have, but can we really rebuild trust with the public by acting like all we do is good; that there is never anyone left behind? Street League took a seriously bold step with their last Annual Report, deciding to lead with their shortcomings. Instead of focussing on the hundreds of people they had placed into full-time employment, they led with the 109 people that they couldn’t help this past year. Admittedly, the board was nervous leading with this but agreed it was the right thing to do. Matt explained the consensus that “As a charity, it’s important to be open and honest, show the public that you can improve, and most importantly that you are trying to improve.”

3) ‘Outcomes to Impact’ is a journey

David advised the group to be under no illusions that the transition from storytelling to measuring impact is a long journey. But it’s something the private sector does well, continually reaping the benefits of being able to show their impact effectively; the stock market being an obvious example. This kind of thinking would be a significant change in mindset. At The Children’s Society, David was told it would be five years before he saw any real impact. He pointed out that this is what will scare some charities off – why invest valuable money, time and effort into leading a huge shift in mindset and processes to wait five years to see the results – particularly in the current media climate.
Matt gave us his own case study of this journey, at Street League. He explained that being able to show your impact is an ever-changing process, from measuring participation as ‘impact’ to moving onto measuring tangible outcomes. This was the real turning point for Street League, after which they were able to say with utter confidence that they had helped a specific number of people.
– Compare: “14,000 people were helped by Street League over three years, with:
– “14,000 people entered a Street League programme, of whom 11,000 completed the course, 6,000 went on to have a job for six months or longer, and 1,000 were unaccounted for.”
How much more compelling, transparent and – frankly – honest is that?
After ‘Outcomes’, naturally, comes ‘Impact’. This is when Street League really homed-in on who they were helping, to drive better decision making:
1) By researching various socio-economic factors across the UK they came up with measurements. For example, they applied different measurements of success to someone who stays in a job for three months as compared to someone still employed after 12.
2) Second was Big Data, already a buzzword in the jargon dictionary, but something that all non-profits need to harness. Big Data is often misunderstood, but it simply means being able to gather the data that you have and learn from the picture it presents. For example, a charity who focusses on youth unemployment may look at data from the region where they work, and learn whether unemployment has got better or worse. And from that, decide whether it is the right thing to continue to focus effort in that location.
After their talks, David and Matt led a Q&A during which the floor opened up to a discussion. One line from Matt really stood out: “If we as a sector want to see a real change in mindsets and being able to show our impact, we should invest as much money into our measurement teams as we do with our finance teams.” This provoked some debate of course, but the underlying point is a challenge to the whole sector. We aren’t holding impact in the same degree of importance as revenue. It’s all well-and-good to increase revenue by X% for the three years running – but has that actually made any difference?

8 Tips to Successfully Integrate Technology

Technology is changing the world around us and is key for your non-profit. Used correctly, it can help you do more with less, but with so much tech available how do you do it successfully?

It’s important that you know where your organisation is heading, and how to reach those goals before investing in new technologies that will help fundraise, market and manage your information.

Knowing when and how to integrate technology at your non-profit can be tricky, so here’s some tips from the technology specialists.

Claim your free tipsheet by clicking the button below


10 Productivity Hacks for Non-profits

Do you struggle to stay switched on? Always running out of hours in the day?

In a busy non-profit sector, you may struggle to find ways to keep positive and productive. By simply maintaining your to-do list and organising your calendar you’re one step closer to keeping your professional self sane throughout the day.

Apply these tips to your daily workflow and you’ll be surprised by what you can accomplish.

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10 Tips for Converting Event Donors

Is your organisation struggling to turn those who run, swim, jump, skydive and cycle on behalf of your charity into regular givers? And how about turning the supporters of your supporters into regular donors?

If both your answers were “not too well”, you’re sitting with the majority and I admire your honesty. If your answer was “brilliantly”, just remember nobody likes a show-off or a liar.

The fact is, turning those event and community fundraisers and their supporters into regular donors for your charity is one of the trickiest things to do as an Event Fundraiser. Many donors don’t even remember whom they’ve donated to hours after they entered in their bank details. Many more opt not to share their information with you or don’t wish to be communicated with after the donation. So finding and turning that small list of potential donors is tricky at best. And that’s even if your peer2peer platform provider actually provides you with the details of those who donate you money.

However, the potential is there! So we chatted to a couple of event fundraising pros and these tips are the result.

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Should we incentivise our Trustees?

Reading through the 12th Edition of the Small Charity Index I am struck by how loyal small charity supporters are.  When it comes to volunteering we have seen consistent rises in the number of volunteers over the past three years, with a 25% increase since June 2016.


So what could we do to move our volunteers to take that extra step and get involved in the governance of our small charities?

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Philanthropy by Numbers

The Story Behind the Stats

Not many would challenge the notion that we’re smack dab in the middle of a new philanthropic era today. A change in expectations has been spurred by savvy consumers and their unprecedented access to technological advances in their daily life.

Donors today want to be in the driver’s seat. They want you to tug at their heartstrings while providing transparency, engagement, and meaningful outcomes. As the sector has seen before, trends in donor stewardship follow the marketplace. This, my dear readers, is the rise of donor-ism.


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8 Tips for Driving End of Year Fundraising Results

Is it really that time of year already? 2016, where have you gone?

With annual campaign goals to meet, target deadlines approaching and personal goals still to achieve, this time of year is always manic. And without wanting to pile the pressure on, nearly a fifth of annual giving happens in the last 6 weeks of the year. That means it’s vitally important you make the most of the season of good-spirit and kind-heartedness to set yourself up for a strong finish to 2016 and and super start to 2017.

It’s not too late either! Here are the top tips from our season(al)ed pros to help you finish the year with a bang!

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The Future of Fundraising

The Future of Fundraising

Sixteen leading not-for-profit experts have come together to share innovative trends, fundraising ideas and best practices that will help not-for-profits with donor retention, and keep their supporters in focus in a new era of philanthropy.

Download the eBook for fresh fundraising tips and ideas you can put into practice now!


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Why you should always share your ideas

Computer ‘web’ to change billions of lives (yeah, right)…


A few weeks ago this article made the viral rounds on the internet – it’s a spoof.  The clues are there, “Dot Comme” writes it for starters.

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