Measuring Impact: Where Data Meets Storytelling
March 25, 2024

Measuring Impact: Where Data Meets Storytelling

By Adrian Cook, Director of Research & Evaluation

“Know well the condition of your flocks, and give attention to your herds, for riches do not last forever…”  Proverbs 27:23-24

Two of the most important concepts around philanthropy are stewardship and storytelling. God has blessed everyone with the capacity to share, but there are special missions and responsibilities that call us to a level of philanthropy that we should be especially accountable for.

At The Rees-Jones Foundation we respond to stories. The authors of a book on communication strategy remind us that “Good stories surprise us. They make us think and feel. They stick in our minds and help us remember ideas and concepts…”[i] Those who have experienced our grant application might call to mind a process that is about technical questions and budgets. But hopefully they have also found an application that allows for telling a story – a story that includes setting, characters, problems, events (or activities), and resolution. We love a plot that brings to mind questions about possibilities and ends with hope!

We also care that hope is more than a story plot, but is a reality that children, youth, and families tangibly experience. Nonprofit organizations are the direct hands and feet that deliver hope, and we know that they care about constituents receiving the benefit of their efforts in a way that changes lives. This is where stewardship intersects with storytelling.

Stewardship requires a feedback loop that is insightful about the way a nonprofit partner is engaging with its constituents and achieving life-changing effects. A way of thinking about the story of an organization is the logic model concept. The logic model elements of need, inputs, activities, outputs, and outcomes correlate to the elements of a story and provide a consistent framework for understanding the important elements of an organization and the rationale that leads to a reasonable expectation of impact.

The Foundation appraises all the logic model elements of an organization when considering a grant request, but the evaluation of outputs and outcomes is a particular focus of feedback in grant reporting. We want to know if the story turned out the way we anticipated.

The Rees-Jones Foundation approaches grant reporting with a narrative of our own that includes the following elements:

  • Who are the constituents and how many constituents were engaged? In grant reporting this often takes the form of a feedback question about how many were served overall through the programming supported by the Foundation over the grant term.
  • How many constituents participated in the programming regularly? Programming by nonprofit organizations typically has a threshold of participation that is required by participants to achieve the desired benefit. In grant reporting, this question is aimed at how many reached a threshold of participation.
  • How many constituents achieved the primary benefit of programming? Programming is designed to meet a need. In grant reporting this question is asking for reporting on how many constituents achieved the primary benefit that the programming is designed to impart.
  • How else were constituents impacted? Programming can have layers of impact. Beyond the primary benefit we will ask questions about other ways that constituents receive advantages from participating. One of the things that is of particular interest to the Foundation, when applicable, is how programming is building up the Christian faith of those participating.

A helpful way of thinking about the elements described above is to consider who is the specific cohort of constituents that are served by the programming that the Foundation is supporting and what is the experience of the cohort in the programming.

One of the questions that we often ask is “What happened to participants after they left the programming? What is their experience three or five years later?” Often there are not easy answers to these questions, but we know our nonprofit partners are asking them too. We are open to collaborating on how to answer those questions best.

We know stories are relatable. Describing the outcomes of our nonprofit partners programming should be relatable too. While our approach to grant reporting is to often ask pointed questions with data point elements, our hope is to capture the richness of how children, youth, and families are having their lives impacted at their point of their need. We hope that those who fill out reports to The Rees-Jones Foundation will not hold back in filling in details that the report questions don’t quite get to.

Stewardship is not just for the Foundation. We know that our nonprofit partners are continuous learners. We are a continuous learner too, and we value learning in collaboration with our grantees. We are constantly developing our approach to grant reporting and maximizing the benefit of the information we receive. We would be happy to share our approach more in-depth. In fact, look for more posts in the coming months around outputs, outcomes, and reporting.


[i] Joe Lazauskas and Shane Snow, The Storytelling Edge

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