If we were to step out of our own narrative and look at our organizations through the questioning eyes of a dispassionate but informed observer, what do we see and to what conclusions might we come? What is the net gain of all the energy, sacrifice and giving?
I realize it is not particularly novel to posit that we are living in an era of tectonic shifts in the world of global ministry and Christian giving. Nonetheless, it is vital we park on that fact. The giving and generosity landscapes have been changing, and continue to change dramatically. There is what some would call a ‘Movement of Generosity’ going through some evangelical circles, and it is accompanied by new paradigms for giving.
Motivated by passages like the “Parable of the Talents” (Matt. 25: 13-30), givers increasingly understand themselves to be stewards rather than owners, and they view their gifts as kingdom investments rather than donations. Attendant to this paradigm shift are important trends and new realities for both givers and fundraisers.
The foundations on which many organizations and ministry strategies were constructed are shifting, and the equation will keep changing. If you do not understand these changes and act on them; if your board and leadership do not soak them in and reframe your behaviors as well as your worldview, you risk being left behind… if you have not been already.
So, why do we believe the work of our hands is making a difference? Why do we think our work is worth its wages? And how do we help others understand this and get excited about coming along with us?
This is where clearly articulating, mapping, evaluating, and reporting impact becomes necessary. It cannot be an afterthought. The intrinsic good of self-assessment must be interwoven into the fabric of the organization, and this must be accomplished from the top down, as well as the bottom up. Cultural change will not take root unless the highest level of leadership understands and models those values. Nor will it last over time unless those values are communicated to, accepted by and implemented at the grass-roots level of the organization. This change takes time, resources, intentionality and above all empathy.
"The giving and generosity landscapes have been changing, and continue to change dramatically."
If we accept that both ministry workers and major givers/foundations are called to be good stewards, and if we believe that we will all be held accountable for our service and stewardship, then we should all want to know whether what we are doing is having an impact. We should be curious about whether there is some sort of kingdom ROI. And in correlation to that impact, we should also feel better about, and be more successful in, evangelizing for our ministries with givers of capacity.
Fundraising is ministry to those of capacity. We have a burden of opportunity to minister to those in our midst, those entrusted with worldly wealth who want and are called to give back but who cannot connect to the work of the Lord, or to the tip of the spear of the Great Commission, in the same way without us.
Yet, how do we quantify and communicate real impact when we work in the realm of the supernatural where, in the end, we depend on the Lord for all eternal outcomes? I am not certain there is one right answer, but I am certain there are some ways to go about this, some best practices within the Lord’s natural order:
- We must acknowledge that measurement and evaluation are inherently good because they help tell the story of God’s work. Does God care about numbers? There is an entire book of the bible, in the Pentateuch no less, called Numbers, right? Throughout both the Old and New Testaments, we see the Lord specify numbers and use them as key aspects to His overarching narrative of love and redemption.
- We must recognize that there are some things which are empirically measurable, things like our activities and our outputs, and then there are things that harder to quantify where both concrete measurement and attribution are much harder to achieve. Yet, we can and must still seek to understand whether our assumptions about our activities and outputs are leading to the impact we desire to see. If you are primarily a B2C ministry this is easier to do than if you are a B2B ministry, but it is important for all of us. We have an opportunity to raise the bar in understanding what the Lord is doing through our ministry and then in articulating that clearly, concisely, and consistently to our giving partners.
- We should understand our logic of change and as necessary define a clear indicator model to help describe why we believe what is happening through our work is leading to the results we hope to achieve.
We must agree upon a logic model that clearly lays out our theory of change – how/why what we’re doing will lead to the change we desire. Next we need to implement vocabulary and mechanisms to evaluate our progress toward that change. Then we need a robust strategic communication stream to ensure all stakeholders, including givers, understand and connect to the wonderful work of the kingdom manifested in our ministry.
If any of these steps breaks down, the value chain fails and we find ourselves asking God to work outside his ordained natural order to “bless” us. While we know God can and will do this, it is our job and obligation as leaders to rigorously pursue excellence each step of the way while trusting God to work. What this excellence looks like, and the extent to which our impact can be quantified, will vary from ministry to ministry. However, major givers and foundations will increasingly expect you as leaders to understand and pursue this type of excellence if you seek to earn their kingdom investments.
Cole Costanzo is the Senior Vice President of Dickerson, Bakker & Associates. His firm serves ministries in three key areas of organizational effectiveness and Kingdom excellence: strategy, executive recruitment, and development consulting. Cole’s background includes ministry leadership and philanthropic giving; he has also served internationally in the corporate sector and with the U.S. Government.