Charting Impact: Common Impact Reporting

This is a guest post by Bob Ottenhoff, CEO of Guidestar, which has partnered with BBB Wise Giving Alliance and Independent Sector to launch Charting Impact.

Bob Ottenhoff Head ShotThere has been a long-standing debate among nonprofits and those that benefit from nonprofits’ goods and services about how to measure nonprofit effectiveness. It seems every organization has a different method for evaluating its progress, and yet we all know that communicating successes – and failures – are of the most vital importance to stakeholders and donors. Not only is there greater demand for transparency and accountability in the new giving era, but there is a greater demand for data on which to base decisions. At the end of the day, people want to know how their contributions are being used, and they want to find that information easily.

The Money for Good I research from Hope Consulting showed us that people base their giving decisions on a nonprofit’s legitimacy, impact, efficiency and reputation, and yet very few conduct extensive research to determine find that impact data. And so nonprofits are plagued with the issue of needing to demonstrate their impact quickly and concisely in order to paint an accurate and complete picture of their nonprofit to the public.

With this in mind, GuideStar joined two leaders in the nonprofit sector — BBB Wise Giving Alliance and Independent Sector — to harness the collective intelligence of more than 200 respected nonprofit and philanthropic leaders on the subject. We came up with five simple questions that, if answered thoroughly and to the best of a nonprofit’s knowledge, will produce a powerful tool to help nonprofits communicate more effectively with their stakeholders. This initiative is aptly named Charting Impact.

Charting Impact isn’t just another good way to share an organization’s impact, but is rather a new, common format that all organizations can use, regardless of type, size, or mission. Charting Impact allows the sharing of assessment information in a concise, standardized way, which ultimately enables new collaborations and resources to be directed to effective organizations.

Led by an advisory group of trusted leaders on nonprofit effectiveness, we designed and extensively tested the initiative in order to:

  • Encourage people to invest their money, time, and attention in effective organizations.
  • Help your organization highlight the difference you make.
  • Position your organization to work with and learn from other organizations.
  • Help your organization sharpen your approaches to making a difference.

If done correctly, a “Charting Impact Report” should consist of an organization’s responses to the five questions, with three external reviews that help validate the self-reported information. Once an organization has used the online interface to complete its report, its responses will produce a document with a unique URL that will be shared on the Charting Impact website, on the nonprofit’s GuideStar profile, on the reports of charities participating in BBB Wise Giving Alliance evaluations, and – in the future – with other websites and information sources about nonprofits. Participants will receive guidance about promoting their Charting Impact Report once they publish their report.

We encourage organizations to answer these questions and share their report on their own website and through their own media channels. We believe the program can go a long way in both helping nonprofits demonstrate their effectiveness and helping donors get the clear and concise information that they require about a nonprofit. 

What do you think of Charting Impact? We want to hear your feedback in the comments here or at


  1. Mario Morino says:

    The Charting Impact initiative is a needed and positive step. Based on what we’ve experienced in our work with Venture Philanthropy Partners, having a well structured information model to facilitate an organization answering Charting Impact’s five questions will be key and what we’ll be most interested to learn more about. Along these lines, we’ve considered adapting the Capacity Assessment Grid McKinsey produced in conjunection with VPP as a model to frame how an organization defines, uses and manages to outcomes. It would be interesting to see how the grid approach aligns to Charting Impact’s approach. Good luck with this important undertaking.

    • Great comment Mario. Having written my own “five questions” I agree with your point about the issue being on the organizations ability to answer the questions. I would actually venture that the quality of the answers will be a stronger indicator than the information cited in the answer. In other words, organizations that can answer the questions in compelling ways that demonstrate a command of the environment in which they operate will be signalling to donors that their underlying information systems, and therefore decision making processes, are strong.

      This knowledge is probably more valuable to donors (especially casual donors) than being presented with the actual underlying data.

  2. Geri Stengel says:

    This is an important undertaking focused on issues of scaling from a nonprofit perspective – and is well timed for the Social Impact Exchange Conference on Scaling Impact (SIEX2011) coming up on June 15. The Charting Impact initiative appears to speak to the need for new funding models to apply to scaling social impact while also addressing the need for standardization of information – two significant contributions.