Blog Series: The Tools of Strategic Clarity – Part 1

January 20, 2016

Quick arithmetic: Building an Intended Impact Statement.

How can we ensure we’re positioned to have an impact on the issues we care about most?

As a new year begins, nonprofit sector thought leaders are asking questions about fundamental shifts, emerging trends and options for investing in their future. It’s clear that nonprofits have “impact” on the brain, driven by questions of how to envision, measure, and ultimately achieve demonstrable progress on the issues and systems close to their hearts (and mandates!)

It’s no secret that social purpose organizations are faced with problems that are large, complex and often difficult to solve. Add in the common resource constraints (pressure to reduce overhead, shifting donor expectations), and the challenge becomes even more daunting. In the process of working with more more than 1,000 nonprofits and collaboratives on increasing their impact, we’ve learned that developing an intended impact statement is a powerful first step to ensure accountability for specific outcomes that align to your overall mission.

Building Your Intended Impact Statement

Just like 2+2 = 4 and E=mc2, formulas can be important for providing quick and clear instructions on how the world works. While we know that social purpose organizations are working in complex situations, intended impact statements focus on prioritizing the most important goal of the organization within a three to five-year period:

{what we will achieve}
{for whom}
{by when}

These seemingly simple, brief statements represent hours of intense and deliberate conversations amongst key team players, whose task is to sift through evidence from past practice as well as external data points, to provide a common frame for team members and external partners.

Intended impact statements form an important aspect of operating as an outcomes-focused organization, and are part of a suite of three key tools for impact:

  • A specific, measurable intended impact statement
  • A theory of change that links inputs (e.g. resources, activities), to outputs, outcomes, and its, intended impact
  • An action plan focused on how to achieve the vision articulated in a Theory of Change, including required changes in the organization and actions on learning priorities.

Over the coming weeks we will share stories of the journeys social purpose organizations have taken to achieve strategic clarity and find ways to amplify their impact. Read on for our first case study: The Arthritis Society.

Intended Impact in Action: The Arthritis Society

TAS-LogoIn the summer of 2014, The Arthritis Society sought to define success for the organization within the next 5 years. It wanted to look at its work more holistically and to better understand both where to focus its activities, and how to allocate its scarce resources to deliver the greatest impact for Canadians living with arthritis. Two central questions guided this work:

  • How should the Arthritis Society define success in relation to its stakeholders?
  • How should it translate these success measures into a focused, intentional set of activities?

Colbeck LogoInnoweave coach Robin Cory of Colbeck Strategic Advisors worked with a team of senior leaders at The Arthritis Society, including CEO Janet Yale, over a three-month period in fall 2014.

To start, they undertook an analysis of “WHO” they would serve, as described by the table below, assigning an intended impact across each target audience.

Arthritis Blog Table 2

The team also clarified the groups that would not be the primary focus of The Society’s efforts over the next five years. These included: employers, families of people with arthritis and General Practitioners (GPs).

The team looked to available data to help inform some of these difficult trade-offs. For example, the evidence indicates that people with arthritis are 5 to 8 times more likely to seek advice from their pharmacist than their GP or specialist. This led them to recognize the opportunity to train pharmacists and other front-line healthcare professionals with whom these consumers are most likely to interact. The Society also reviewed data regarding the supply of rheumatologists over the next 5 years. In looking at the average wait times to see a specialist, the leaders concluded that there was an important role for The Society to play in increasing the number of rheumatologists in Canada. This led to a decision to focus on building incentives for internal medicine residents to choose rheumatology as a specialty.

This thinking was captured in The Arthritis Society’s intended impact statement:

By 2020, as a result of the work of The Arthritis Society, Canadians with arthritis will live well because:

  • The number of empowered self-managers will have doubled,
  • They will have increased access to care provided by arthritis-trained healthcare professionals
  • Public policy will better reflect their need, and
  • Discoveries will have advanced the understanding and treatment of arthritis.

Translating Intended Impact into a Roadmap for Success

What we can see from the experience of The Arthritis Society is that specificity and prioritization are key to defining intended impact. While the formula for developing an intended impact statement referenced earlier may seem reductive, the resulting product represents difficult and deliberate conversations around what is possible, and also desirable, to achieve in an organization that faces numerous potential paths.

In part 2 of this series, we’ll dive into how an intended impact positions organizations for articulating a fulsome Theory of Change.

To read more about The Arthritis Society, read the full case study.

To get help working on your Intended Impact statement, sign up for an Innoweave Impact Accelerator.