Thoughts about Giving: What Is Our Impact?

by Kimberly Goodrich
Senior Director of Development

As the debate continues around ratings, ratios, and watchdogs, nonprofits around the country are focused on how to emphatically and accurately communicate their value. If the purpose of charities is to right social wrongs, alleviate distress, or improve lives, how do we know when we are doing our job? What do overhead and stars have to do with the effect an organization is having on the fulfillment of its mission? If ratings do not suitably portray the efficiency of an organization’s operations – then how do we know our dollars are being well spent? What is our impact?

Impact, in the nonprofit world, refers to the change in behavior (outcome) that is a result (output) of the activities and resources provided (inputs). For example, an organization provides a class and information on the health risks associated with smoking cigarettes (input), and finds that 42 percent of attendees stop smoking (outcome), resulting in higher scores on overall health measures at their next checkup (output). If their mission was to improve health scores by decreasing the number of smokers, then this organization can clearly state this as their impact.

MSAA’s mission is to be a leading resource for the MS community and improve lives today. A quick look at the Merriam-Webster online dictionary tells us that “improve” means “to make (something) better; to enhance in value or quality; to advance or make progress in what is desirable.” But how do we measure this improvement? And how much improvement is enough? In the previous example, if the smoking-cessation classes improved health scores by 50 percent, this sounds great, but what if they only improved by 5 percent…is that enough? If 5 percent kept that person from having a heart attack, would it then be enough?

The improvement of a life is not easily shown on a graph or a financial statement. Sometimes we need to hear the stories that accompany the percentages and the ratios, the revenues, and the expenses. The stories that remind us why we do what we do.

“From the bottom of my heart, I thank you – all of you, for helping me to live independently [through MSAA’s free equipment distribution program]. I put my shoes on by myself!! It has been years since I have done that! Thank you for the leg lifter. It lifted my spirits too!”

– F.H. from South Carolina

This is not to say that numbers do not matter. Knowing that more than 400,000 people have been diagnosed with MS in the United States, we at MSAA are determined to increase the numbers of people who benefit from our vital programs and services. Last year, 1,040,554 people accessed our website for information – 814,776 of them for the first time. That’s a significant number of people, who, like F.H. from South Carolina, can have their spirits lifted and their lives improved.

“I would like to thank everyone at MSAA for providing assistance to me [through MSAA’s MRI Institute]. I can’t explain how grateful I am for this opportunity. I remember some time ago when my neurologist scheduled an MRI, the price of the MRI was equivalent to the cost of a car, so I had to skip the MRI. Additionally, with that expense and the expense of MS medications, it made me feel that I wouldn’t have a fair chance at combating MS. Words can’t express my gratitude. Thank you!

– M.A. from New Hampshire

In an effort to evolve and grow, MSAA is working to evaluate our effectiveness in fulfilling our mission. We ask everyone who engages with us to help us by completing our surveys and program evaluations, which we continually review to ensure we are asking the right questions. Currently, more than 50 percent of those who receive adaptive equipment from MSAA respond that the item “greatly impacted their independence and quality of life;” 76 percent said the item “allowed them to do things they previously could not do;” 90 percent would not have been able to acquire this item without MSAA’s assistance. The collection of this information helps us show improvement in that person’s life, and this helps us to show our impact.

MSAA has been able to improve the lives of people like M.A. from New Hampshire because of an increase in the number of generous donors who support us in this mission. We are incredibly thankful for this growing number of people who, through their vital contributions, experience the joy of creating an impact – and improving lives today!