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A few Decembers ago when I was home in Vancouver, I went with some girlfriends to serve breakfast and hand out holiday gift bags at a drop-in center for the less fortunate, where community members are offered shelter, activities, and a daily hot meal. The morning that we went also happened to be Women’s Wednesday.
I don’t remember her name, or really what she looked like, but I remember her asking us for a pen to write with. I also remember her sitting by herself, hunched over a table, long after the scrambled eggs and hash browns had run out.
Once we had finished cleaning up and were getting ready to leave, she came into the kitchen. She handed a few of us letters, said they were for everyone, and then she left.
The letter that I held was titled “Favorite Ladies,” and this is what it said:
There is much talk within the nonprofit sector of how organizations should measure their impact, and there doesn’t really seem to be a right or wrong way to implement a measurement strategy. Some measure individual impact in their journeys towards a certain mission, and some measure the collective impact of organizations working towards the same mission. Some measure impact through the number of programs offered, the number of resources handed out, or the number of people helped.
No matter what, I think that it’s always important to share stories from the communities that you have helped. A first-hand account from a family who has used your food bank, a child who attended your event, or a couple who adopted a cat from your shelter. These stories put a face - a tangible, human element – to your mission and vision.
As an employee of, a volunteer for, and a donor to different nonprofits, these stories give me a different kind of goal to focus on. By hearing these first-hand accounts of how my work or donation has helped someone, it encourages me to keep giving, because even though I may not actually see the end of poverty or the cure for cancer in my lifetime, I know that each moment I focus on the nonprofit sector is still making a difference.
This letter that I received is a constant reminder to me that in our organizations, the small picture matters just as much as the big, because change has to start somewhere. Sparking a change within a single community member, even if just for a moment, is a step towards achieving your organization’s overall vision. Just like every donated dime counts, so does every point of impact.
On that brisk, winter morning, my friends and I did not help this woman acquire permanent housing. We did not alleviate her poverty, or any other ailments she may be facing. But in that moment, we did make an impact on her life.
And her kind words made an impact on mine.
Colleen Dunbar is a project specialist in the ASU Lodestar Center's marketing/communications department, and is currently completing her master of arts degree in communications studies at Arizona State University. Originally hailing from Vancouver, Canada, Colleen is striving to make a difference and give back to her community through a career in nonprofit public relations. Connect with Colleen on Twitter and LinkedIn.
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Read Kate Elliott's, "Telling your nonprofit's story."