2020 Series: The Importance of Context
In the future, when reflecting on the activities of all types of impact organizations in 2020, it will be impossible to understand decision-making and impact through numbers alone. Without the context of the events this year, including the Australian bushfires, COVID-19, the stock market crash in March, the US election, the many instances of social injustice and resulting Black Lives Matter protests, the West Coast wildfires and more events on a global and localized scale, how can future audiences understand the shift in resources or the new found urgency towards new areas of focus?
With the unfathomable amount of life-altering events occurring this year, the theme of utilizing both quantitative and qualitative data to tell the story of an organization’s activity has never been more important In the social sector. To start, a photo or testimonial has been known to be beneficial in emotionally connecting audiences to your work. Today we can also see the importance of using this qualitative data to provide context in your narrative, before getting to the outcomes of your work. This context will be imperative when externally sharing your story, whether it is for potential donors, existing partners, or future impact organizations looking to learn from your work.
Beyond Sports Foundation in Chicago offers a great application of the importance of context when we look at their 2020 end-of-year fundraising appeal. The Foundation centers its programming around four key pillars, but donors saw a focus on the academic pillar when receiving data around activity this year and goals for 2021. This is due to the pandemic. After the school's in-person activities were suspended, the organization had to shift to entirely virtual programming. The qualitative data provides context and demonstrates the adaptability of the Foundation.
Looking forward, the need for qualitative context goes beyond the result of an external circumstance. The Ford Foundation’s Office of Strategy and Learning works with all of the programs funded by the Ford Foundation to learn and improve upon the success of each program over time. Each program has a monitor tracking what the initiative is working towards, and each program’s goals align with the 5 year goals of the overall Foundation. The Office of Strategy and Learning has found over its extensive goal tracking that it is difficult to measure the success of a program with just the achievement (or not) of a set metric. The goals of these initiatives are complex, and often the office saw qualitative notes from program officers in reports, expanding on the numbers.
The Ford Foundation identified a need for monitoring these circumstances and details with more effective tracking of qualitative data, as well as giving it equal weight. This recognition of the importance of this data is one that will become more widespread in the sector in 2021. As impact organizations collect and rely more and more on data, the need for further clarity and context will be crucial. Reports that combine quantitative and qualitative information will be the foundation of long-term growth, building programs rooted in contextual information that can inform and guide future decision-making.
Other Posts in the 2020 Series: