Recently I attended a wedding and saw a perfect demonstration of how real and tangible impact* is and yet how ephemeral and impossible it is to quantify. The wedding was going along just fine. The bride was beautiful, the groom handsome, the setting a wonderful public garden in New York. There were even little bunny rabbits jumping around the lawn (amazingly enough they were wild rabbits who live in the park).
But then, a little after dinner but before the cake was cut, something kind of wonderful happened. The band started to play a song that everyone knew, people began moving towards to the dance floor, laughing started as a couple of people who didn’t want to dance got pulled along by a spouse or child… and then everybody danced. The song seemed to last for just a moment and yet that moment lasted forever. When the band came to a halt the whole dance floor exploded into applause, everyone laughed and then people began wandering back to their seats or over towards the bar.
That moment was what made the wedding great. It was what transformed it from a simple ceremony to a true celebration and the welcoming of the newlyweds into their community of friends and family.
There’s no system that a wedding planner can put in place to insure that “the moment” happens every time. There’s no way to systematically rank the “impact” of weddings or the effectiveness with which wedding planners create “the moment”. But is still real.
A smart wedding planner will take note of those things that help create the great weddings. They’ll recognize which bands have that certain something that brings people out to dance. Some wedding planners will be better than others and some will be just terrible. And sometimes the best weddings will happen almost by accident.
One of the problems with talking about impact in the social sector is the lack of ability to accurately quantify or even identify impact. In a perfect world we would measure the impact, compare it to the cost of achieving said impact, and we’d be able to perfectly allocate resources to the highest impact projects.
But something that cut and dry is nothing by a fantasy.
Impact is real. Some nonprofits achieve more than others. Some funders are better than others, too. It might be hard to measure, but we can recognize the elements that help it to occur. And when real impact does occur in the social sector, it is amazing what we can achieve.
*Impact is the “good” that an organization achieves.