When nonprofits and their investors speak of impact they go in two equally important directions. First to the micro level where they want to make a difference to individuals whose names and stories they know. Results up close and personal. Second, to the macro level, where they want to know that something is different for a significant number of persons. Results moving a needle.

Increasingly, I find that investors are drawn to nonprofits that solve or at least take a major whack at a problem in a given locale. They much less drawn to programs that nibble away at a pressing issue. I have recently helped three groups to significantly scale up their impact and the money they get by becoming the franchise in an area. Here is where you come to solve this problem, not just to work on it. Ho hum: We helped 100 persons solve this problem. A ha: 2,000 persons here have that problem. To date we have helped half of them to solve it.

Traditional thinking on needle moving suggests a shift from program-level statistics to population level data. This has two problems. One is that the level of intervention of most programs and interventions is not strong enough to move a large number with the challenge they address. Second, it is tough to know when to take credit for a population improvement. People get better for many reasons.

I am finding success with clients by a different approach. It stays at the program level and changes the math. Colleagues working with Robert Wood Johnson Foundation once called this approach the “denominator exercise.” Think of the numerator as the number of persons who get to a result in a program. If that number is 1,000 persons out of a population of 50,000, the needle moves 2%. If the focus is on one school, one neighborhood or one cohort group where 5,000 people have the problem, however, the same number getting to a gain yields a 20% change and the needle has moved.

The chunking of total number in terms of geography had the added advantages of place-based human gain. Higher levels of engagement exist within a neighborhood than a city. If that potential is realized, the denominator goes down while the numerator also goes up. The math looks far better. Email me if you want more on this.

Increasingly, I find that investors are drawn to nonprofits that solve or at least take a major whack at a problem in a given locale. They much less drawn to programs that nibble away at a pressing issue. I have recently helped three groups to significantly scale up their impact and the money they get by becoming the franchise in an area. Here is where you come to solve this problem, not just to work on it. Ho hum: We helped 100 persons solve this problem. A ha: 2,000 persons here have that problem. To date we have helped half of them to solve it.

Traditional thinking on needle moving suggests a shift from program-level statistics to population level data. This has two problems. One is that the level of intervention of most programs and interventions is not strong enough to move a large number with the challenge they address. Second, it is tough to know when to take credit for a population improvement. People get better for many reasons.

I am finding success with clients by a different approach. It stays at the program level and changes the math. Colleagues working with Robert Wood Johnson Foundation once called this approach the “denominator exercise.” Think of the numerator as the number of persons who get to a result in a program. If that number is 1,000 persons out of a population of 50,000, the needle moves 2%. If the focus is on one school, one neighborhood or one cohort group where 5,000 people have the problem, however, the same number getting to a gain yields a 20% change and the needle has moved.

The chunking of total number in terms of geography had the added advantages of place-based human gain. Higher levels of engagement exist within a neighborhood than a city. If that potential is realized, the denominator goes down while the numerator also goes up. The math looks far better. Email me if you want more on this.