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Navigating Power Dynamics: A Social Innovator’s Journey in the Metrics Maze

2022 Echoing Green Fellows at Echoing Green Conference, Left to Right: Donte Miller, Grace Williams, Peter Okwoko, Kv Tjatjara, and Neo Huturi.

In Echoing Green’s ongoing exploration of power dynamics in the social impact sector, The Weight of Power: The Role of Metrics & Evaluation at the Intersection of Social Justice sheds light on the challenges faced by social innovators in their pursuit of funding and impact. As an extension of the report, we’re delving into the lived experience of an Echoing Green Fellow. They anonymously shared insights into the struggle between aligning with the funders’ metrics and evaluating for authentic community impact.

In its current state, philanthropy operates within a top-down framework, where foundations often dictate metrics that grantees must adhere to in order to secure financial support. This predefined structure forces organizations to conform to metrics that might not align with their community-driven visions of success. These metrics may be commonly adopted or even evidence-based. However, there is often little room for exploring how social innovation may require implementing new models of measurement or filling evidence gaps. This Fellow’s experience with their education-focused organization highlights how traditional metrics imposed by funders — attendance, grades, and behavior such as suspensions — can prevent organizations from addressing the unique needs and aspirations of their communities.

“We, as nonprofit leaders, are currently tasked to play a very political, very bureaucratic game that has no bearing on the success or impact and outcomes of our organizations,” they said.

Describing the relationship between funders and grantees, the Fellow draws a poignant parallel to an “employer-employee relationship.” Akin to how employers hold power in ways employees do not, funders’ undue influence often obstructs social innovators in fully realizing their vision for change in their communities. Instead of fostering collaboration, this dynamic hinders genuine partnership. This lack of true relationship building prevents honest yet necessary conversations about the needs of social impact organizations.

Leaders, especially those who are Black, Indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC), face challenges in reaching funders due to lack of access. Even if leaders have access, they’re often required to prioritize the funders’ vision of success over their own in order to receive funding, which ultimately impedes innovation and perpetuates ineffective programs. There is a deep need and desire for a genuine partnership that values the success and impact of organizations over politics and bureaucracy.

“We need the autonomy and agency ourselves as leaders to prioritize what the community says they want and need.”

As we reflect on this Fellow’s journey and the broader implications outlined in The Weight of Power, it is clear that dismantling existing power structures is imperative for true social impact. The report yielded four takeaways to shift power in tangible ways that contribute to greater equity and progress in social impact:

  • Engage in transformative relationships
  • Reassess traditional measures of success
  • Invest in evaluation innovation
  • Provide flexible, multiyear funding

Only by shifting power to those on the frontlines can we create a sector that genuinely prioritizes the needs and aspirations of communities.

To dive deeper into these takeaways and insights, read the full report here.

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