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Wise Giving Wednesday: When appeals claim a donation can double a charity’s impact

Jun 24, 2020

In the past twenty years, the issue of a charity’s impact has received increased attention for a variety of reasons. Some define impact as how well a charity has been addressing its stated mission, while others have different interpretations. Some donors, such as private foundations, are seeking to identify how their generosity has made a difference in addressing a specified issue or cause, while other contributors may be seeking reassurance, beyond just dollars and cents, that charities are fulfilling their philanthropic role. Impact is challenging to assess due to the diversity of charity goals and the many possible influences on any desired outcome. We sought to address this subject ten years ago collaborating with Independent Sector and GuideStar (now known as Candid) to create Charting Impact – a series of five questions that charities can answer to help describe their achievements. We felt this was the right path to help move charities to recognize the importance of outcomes (e.g., the reduction of poverty or improved treatment for diseases) rather than outputs (e.g., the number of meals served or people helped.)

We now see the word “impact” being used in some charity appeals, not as a means to discuss outcomes or even outputs, but as a way to announce that a donor’s gift can result in a dollar amount that is twice the size due to a promised match from a third party. Some of these are quite sensational with declarations such as “Matching Drive - Double the Impact” or “Your Donation + Matching Gift = Double the Impact!” to entice a donor to make a contribution. While these charity appeals may be well intentioned, they could add to the confusion about the meaning of impact. The amount a charity raises may or may not lead to greater mission impact. If anything, dollars raised is an input along a continuum to impact.

Our advice to donors is to distinguish between claims of impact based on money and focus instead on what the charity does with the money. When promises about a charity’s impact are being made in appeals, the charity may be using that word as a way to talk about total gift size, rather than program results. We urge charities to define such terms in appeals, or consider not using them at all to avoid even the possibility that contributors will be misled into believing something that may not be true.


Video of the Week

The BBB Wise Giving Alliance is proud of our network of trusted accredited charities, which are rising to the challenge of dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic in innovative ways to safely serve us all. This week, Art Taylor speaks with Rene Gellerman, President and CEO of United Way Quad Cities (a BBB Accredited Charity), about delivering programs during this challenging time


Recent Reports

We are always working with charities to publish or update reports for donors. Visit Give.org or local BBBs to check out any charity before giving. Our recently evaluated charities include:

Finally, remember to let us know by going to give.org/charity-inquiry if you are interested in seeing a report on a charity not on the list and we will do our best to produce one.

H. Art Taylor, President & CEO
BBB Wise Giving Alliance