For returning readers you know I’m pushing hard to make the mission the center of the social sector universe and pushing back even harder on the idea of cost-of-fundraising. When you push you get push-back, and some of it has been around the challenges of measuring the mission AKA impact.
The difficulty of evaluating impact may well be the reason the watchdog groups like Charity Navigator went for the easy math and created the whole cost-of-fundraising farce. Certainly the IRS 990 doesn’t help. It tells as much about what an organization does as the 1040 tells about you and me.
What if there was a place that looked only at the mission the way the Underwriters Laboratory only looks at products? The UL doesn’t give a wit if the company is profitable. It simply wants to know if the product does what it says it does, and whether it is safe. Here is their mission statement:
Dedicated to promoting safe living and working environments, UL helps safeguard people, products and places in important ways, facilitating trade and providing peace of mind.
Free of the finances, the Mission Underwriters Laboratory could focus on the real purpose of the social sector which is to deliver impact. The idea is not really new; the Acumen Fund and Google created Pulse, an application based on Impact Reporting and Investment Standards (IRIS – what a differen 1 letter makes) to create a framework for organizations to provide the information so investors could evaluate impact.
IRIS’ independent and credible performance measures help organizations assess and report on their social performance.
Pulse and IRIS were created to help investors know if their impact investing was actually making an impact. Donors are investing in your mission, so it is not much of leap.
Social Solutions has a powerful platform deigned specifically for social and human services organizations with the following mission:
To Challenge and Equip Organizations to Turn Good Intent into Measurable Change by Relating Efforts to Outcomes.
So people are trying, but there is more that could be done. The MUL (not sure I love that acronym, but we could add a small “e” for Enterprise and then it would connote tenacity and hard work) would build on IRIS and what companies like Social Solutions have done to ensure each sector (and sub-sector) was measured appropriately. It would also separate out the financial aspects so it’s focused solely on the effectiveness of the mission.
Imagine for a moment your donors (and prospective donors) going to the MUL to investigate how much good you are doing. If you are making a big difference I guarantee you donors won’t care if your cost-of-fundraising is a penny or 50 cents on the dollar.
While I prefer the social sector to nonprofit, it got that name for a reason. Missions are not about profit; they are about those they serve. It is a concept created by a capitalist who understood all too well the dangers of the profit-motive for those less fortunate.
Missions need a place where they can be judged not by the cost of doing business, but rather by the good they deliver. It is worth MULing over.