From Good to Better to Best – Telling a Compelling Story of Impact

When it comes to making an impact on the communities and issues they have prioritized as a philanthropic body, grant funders live vicariously through their awardees. So it makes sense that they would want to know how the work of applicant organizations is making a difference in those same communities and how it is impacting the issues about which the funder is passionate. 


Questions in grant applications that solicit information about how the work of an organization makes a difference may look like this:


  • How do you know that your solution to the problem will work? 
  • How will you know if your program is successful? How do you define success? 
  • What evidence-based practices will you use to meet the needs you have identified?
  • What will happen as a result of your work? How will the community look different as a result of your work?
  • How were the results you expected different from what actually occurred? What did you learn? 


Answering these questions is more than complying with funder requirements. Our narrative responses in an application tell the story of how the funder and applicant organization can work together to help solve a problem, drive solutions to a social challenge, and affect change. After an awarded project is complete, the grant report tells the story of what the partnership accomplished, what was learned, and how a community is better as a result of the work.


Fortunately, there are tools in the world of program evaluation that we can tap into as grant writers to tell our stories of impact in a compelling way. Becoming familiar with the theory of change and the logic model behind the program design can help us write a narrative that explains how we know that doing something in a certain way can be expected to achieve certain results. 


What that looks like for a program providing peer-facilitated mental health support groups to individuals living with mood disorders:


Our theory of change tells us that:


If we do the things: provide peer-facilitated mental health support groups  




We can expect certain results: participants will feel less isolated and more connected with others


The logic model is a visual representation of the theory of change behind our program design that presents the logical flow of the work:


  • from resources needed to carry out the work (trained peer facilitators, support curriculum, meeting space) 
  • to the resulting outputs (100 people meeting weekly across 11 groups) 
  • and expected outcomes (80% of support group participants will report decreased isolation as a result of their participation in groups).


We can use this information to craft a strong program narrative. For our peer mental health support groups example, we can look at three progressively stronger narratives to build out our story of impact:

Describe what the program does (its activities) Convey how/why doing these activities will help  Describe the linkages between the activities and the expected results that will drive the desired change
The ABC Organization offers free and confidential weekly peer support groups for those living with mood disorders. Support groups meet for 90 minutes and are led by a trained peer facilitator. Participants can get support from those who’ve “been there”. Research shows that people with mental health issues can more easily build trust with peers who understand their challenges and will respect confidentiality.  As a result of the shared lived experiences and increased trust between support group participants, we expect that group participation will help participants feel more connected to and less isolated from others. We expect that 75% of support group participants will report decreased isolation due to their attendance at groups. 


We can look back at previous service data and program evaluation reports to develop reasonable expectations for outcomes for work going forward and incorporate these predictions into grant applications to communicate the kind of impact that funder dollars will have on our population of focus. Since the theory of change and evidence-based program design informed the development of the logic model, our grant proposal and report narratives can utilize these evaluation tools to tell the story of the actual impact on the beneficiaries of our services and the communities we serve:


Discuss the outputs from the program activities  Report actual measurement of outcomes Describe the program’s impact on participants and the community, as well as the change that occurred: 
100 people attend support groups each week.

There are 11 different groups meeting weekly. 

75% of support group participants reported decreased isolation due to their attendance at groups. Persons living with mood disorders show improved quality of life (decreased isolation, increased connections) as a result of mental health peer support group participation.


With a better understanding of these tools of the evaluation trade, grant writers can tell the real story of the difference that organizations and programs are making in the lives and communities of those they serve. And that’s the BEST outcome for funders, organizations, and communities. 


 Which of the three evaluation elements will you work on? 

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