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How do I catalyze social impacts through my philanthropy?

Directly funding impactful organizations or programs is an important contribution to generating social impact. However, there are some activities that can amplify your impact as a donor.

Most philanthropic donations support the ongoing operations of existing charitable programs, and represent a relatively small portion of the programs’ overall implementation cost. In these cases, measuring the social impact a donor can “claim” is most appropriately determined using a calculation claim. In short, the percentage that the donation representations of the supported program’s overall budget (e.g., a $1,000 donation to a $100,000 program equals 1% support), is the how much of the program’s overall social impact the donor can them claim (e.g., if 100 people are housed by the program, the donor can then claim 100 * 1% = 1 person housed).

More substantial donations, made either to existing programs or new programs that are being developed, may catalyze additional social value the donor may claim. In such cases, the donor’s investment must be considered “foundational” – that is, sufficiently substantial, that without it the supported program might not exist. The following examples illustrate three ways foundational donations may generate – and claim – catalytic effects:

  • Your donation attracted other donors, enabling overall program implementation
    • You can claim the full impact of the program even if you did not fund the program in totality because your foundational investment helped seed the additional donations required for full funding. So, if you provided 50% of a program’s initial funding as a lead sponsor, and on the strength of that the nonprofit was able to attract the remaining 50% of funding from other donors, then you can claim to have directly funded 50% of the impact (via a contribution claim) and catalyzed the remaining 50% of the program’s impact.
  • Your donation resulted in a new program or model that is then replicated in the future
    • If you are a foundational funder of a program that, once validated, serves as a model for replication, then you can claim to have catalyzed the impacts of the replicated programs, even if you are not funding those replications.
  • Your donation increases the capacity of an organization that results in a sustained and defined net gain in impact.
    • Your funder claim would be calculated as an “attribution claim” meaning you can claim any sustained and measurable impacts beyond the program’s baseline impacts. 

In all cases, it’s important to be transparent about which social impacts you have directly funded and which you have catalyzed, to avoid the risk of being seen as overclaiming your results.