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Delivering and Measuring Results

A number of the philanthropists we interviewed are not content to simply sign and send checks—they want to know their giving is making a difference. “I want to change the world—that interests me in my philanthropy and I would measure the success of it, not by the amount of money I spent, but by what it achieved, ” reflects Michal Steinhardt. Across our interviewees, this desire is generating increased interest in measuring results and new thinking regarding measurement approaches and systems. Three points stand out: Measurement is essential, measurement is difficult, and transformational change takes time.

Without a way to gauge success, it’s impossible to adapt and get better results over time. The philanthropists we interviewed are interested in measuring their success with their grantees, across their initiatives, and among donors targeting the same issue. Additionally, some of our interviewees recognize that failure represents a unique opportunity to learn and adapt. They accept the possibility of failure at the outset, which opens up a willingness to take bigger risks that could lead ultimately to outsized rewards.

Measurement in the social sector is not easy, however. Unlike the private sector where profit is the clear, quantifiable goal, no sole definition of success exists in philanthropy. Rather, metrics remain fragmented within and across domains. The philanthropists we interviewed report that they’re making progress by having clear and honest discussions with their grantees about what success looks like—a critical first step. Some are also making strides in aligning the measures they request to their grantees’ priorities—focusing on measures that are most useful in promoting continuous program improvement. A few interviewees feel that cumbersome measurement systems that don’t lead to better results simply waste everyone’s time and money.

Finally, there is growing recognition that achieving transformational change takes time. Many of the philanthropists we interviewed feel it is important to stick with organizations for the long-term: If something is working, to see it through, and when something is not working, to consider whether there is an opportunity to approach it in a different way and get better results in the future.