Key Points

· In order to achieve more targeted community change than possible in conventional grantmaking, foundations have developed a portfolio of activities ranging from capacity building to venture and catalytic philanthropy.

· Key to each of these approaches is a desire for meaningful impact. Yet, funders across the nation express dissatisfaction with their ability to prove or demonstrate impact.

· Conversations with colleagues and personal experience suggest that part of this dissatisfaction is due to a disconnect between the expectations of board members, donors, staff, and participants on one hand and what is actually feasible to measure on the other.

· This article draws on national surveys of community initiatives and funders as well as the experience of the Central New York Community Foundation across a range of philanthropic activities to set forth a framework for measuring impact based on the scale of action taken.

· This framework is particularly intended to set the groundwork for discussion with active community members such as community foundation board members who help to oversee and set direction for initiatives but do not implement them. Such stakeholders depend on staff to communicate in simple and clear fashion – a view from 30,000 feet in the air rather than descending into the “weeds” of the complexity that staff confronts in their daily work.

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