Understanding your impact is core to your mission as a grantmaker. So is being responsive to the organizations and communities you support. However, bringing these two goals together remains a relatively new practice in nonprofit funding.

Co-designing your metrics with all your stakeholders, not just internally, brings a host of benefits:

  • You will be asking organizations to report in ways that are actually helpful to them, not just put together for the sake of reporting
  • You will streamline the information that you receive
  • You will earn trust in the communities you serve
  • You will improve and clarify what you are offering to grantees, leading to a better match between their needs and your support

The framework most often used for co-designing metrics is called Human-Centered Design, or HCD. HCD puts human needs at the center and uses qualitative and quantitative research to investigate the impact that a program, process, or technology has on people’s lives.

In contrast to a top-down process that emphasizes the priorities of a funder, HCD process as applied to philanthropy offers the opportunity to understand not just how a given grant impacts an organization, but how the relationship between funder and grantee shapes the health of the nonprofit sector as a whole.

The first step of a HCD process consists of research, or gathering information, often by surveying and/or interviewing grantees or community members. This information is then synthesized in order to communicate new learnings about the lived experience of the people interviewed. In the prototype phase, ideas are developed that take these learnings into account. In the testing phase, the community gives feedback on the ideas.

Co-design adds an additional element to a traditional HCD process: in co-design, instead of doing research ON stakeholders and testing ideas ON them, you do the research and develop the ideas WITH them. In co-design, you share decision-making power with the community you support. This is often unfamiliar and uncomfortable because it means upending the usual power dynamics between grantmaker and recipient, as well as opening yourself to results that meet the needs of others as well as your own needs.

Start the process by asking questions such as:

  • What kind of impact do you want to see?
  • How do you measure impact?
  • What do you want to learn from your grantees?
  • What structure will allow you to collect that information?

Category:  Funding Approach & Process