I had the very great pleasure of attending the 2022 Philanthropy Australia Conference in Sydney from 6-8 September. It was uplifting to be in the room with so many visionaries, inspiring speakers, panelists and fellow delegates. 

I have two personal highlights to share. The first is about impact measurement, a topic which I am very passionate about and the second relates to Aboriginal knowledge and leadership styles, with a focus on inclusion and collaboration.  

Accountability for impact: Nothing matters more — a keynote to remember 

Philanthropy is an important catalyst for social change creating impact. A focus on impact and the importance of measuring it was a common thread throughout several conference sessions. In my experience, these concepts are often not well understood by funding partners and the for-purpose organisations they support.  Added to this is the perception that impact measurement requires significant research expertise, is expensive, difficult to design and even more difficult to implement. 

Unfortunately, this misperception is consistently reinforced with evaluation not recognised or allowed as a legitimate line item for project and program budgets to include.  

Enter Kevin Starr from the Mulago Foundation who shared his personal story. The Foundation works with social entrepreneurs to identify, design and fund scalable solutions to impact poverty. His presentation was simple, practical and compelling, debunking myths about impact measurement and making it reachable for all.   

The key message was accountability. Funders and partners need to be accountable, adopting the mindset of “their impact is our impact”. If an organisation cannot clearly articulate what its impact is, then it should not be funded, simple as that. Resources need to flow efficiently to those who need them, that is all that matters. Bold words indeed! 

So, how do you meet this challenge?    

The key is to start right now!  

Impact measurement must be part of your story from the get-go. Retrofitting an evaluation framework doesn’t work, as many funding partners and organisations have learned.  What matters is understanding the purpose and intent of the change being created, authentically knowing what the impact is and using measures that will enable you to tell that story simply and effectively over time.   

When designing your project, you must align it to your mission and vision, be clear about what you want to change, describe it succinctly, show how you will measure it and revisit your progress at different points in time. If you are working on multi-site or multi-partner projects, then you need to understand and demonstrate exactly what your contribution is.  

Kevin summed this up as mission, metric, change and attribution. 

We all need to speak loudly and advocate strongly for evaluation to be embedded in our project and program planning and funded appropriately. A minimum of 10% should be allocated to this work. 

Without this, we will struggle to create a lasting impact through change, which is the ultimate expression of love, humanity and justice (Kevin Starr).  

How to embed Aboriginal knowledge in leadership styles — a masterclass experience 

I had the opportunity to attend this thought-provoking and personally enriching masterclass. Based on the teachings of Dr Mary Graham and Dr Lilla Watson, Mundanara Bayles, the CEO of BlackCard took us on a journey that unpacked Aboriginal culture, leadership and governance.   

Mundanara called on us all to be inclusive and collaborative. The story of her grandmother and the life she lived enabled us to better understand men’s business, women’s business and community business. In a structure based on autonomy, rather than unification, there is no chieftain. Elders have authority; however, power is diffused throughout the group. To be truly inclusive and collaborative, the collective, equal voice of Aboriginal peoples needs to be heard. 

On reflection, what does this mean?   

The way to truly connect is through all of us telling our story of life in this country, known as Australia, talking about our families and where we come from, not where we work. An introduction is based on “who you are, not what you do” and serves to reinforce our humanness.  

Relationships are at the core of Aboriginal culture.  The take-home message is “be relational, not transactional” and then we can truly work alongside each other to make real change happen. 

If you would like to know more, Mundanara has published a series of Black Magic Woman podcasts available here

Impact measurement, inclusion and collaboration - Diversity is having a seat at the table, inclusion is having a voice, and belonging is having that voice be heard.
Liz Fosslien, co-author and illustrator of the US best-seller Big Feelings

In summary 

Congratulations to the Philanthropy Australia team for planning, coordinating, and delivering this extraordinary conference. I consider it a privilege to have attended and the learnings will stay with me for a long time to come.   

Strategic Grants builds the capacity of for-purpose organisations to apply strategic thinking to their service delivery and fundraising programs. Get in touch to find out how we can help.