The following article was originally published in PhilanTopic. This article is part of a year-long series on PhilanTopic that addresses major themes related to Foundation Center's work: the use of data to understand and address important issues and challenges; the benefits of foundation transparency for donors, nonprofits/NGOs, and the broader public; the emergence of private philanthropy globally; the role of storytelling in conveying the critical work of philanthropy; and what it means, and looks like, to be an effective, high-functioning foundation, nonprofit, or changemaker in the twenty-first century. To see the original article, please click here.
by Annie Rhodes
For many grantmakers in the United States, the announcement of the UN's Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) came and went without much fanfare. Some surely must have wondered how the work they're supporting in the U.S. could count toward a much larger international initiative if they weren't funding projects in developing countries. And some may have even thought the SDGs are designed to improve the lives of people only in places like Kenya or Nicaragua, not Kentucky and Nebraska. But what these grantmakers may not realize is that the work they're already doing, day in and day out, can make a huge difference in achieving the goals set forth by the UN as part of its Agenda 2030.
Whether working to end hunger and poverty, providing access to clean water, or championing gender equality, each of the seventeen goals addresses issues that towns, cities, and states across the U.S. are familiar with. We need to look no further than the water crisis in Flint, Michigan, or the gender wage gap in most industries and communities. The challenge isn't how to get domestic grantmakers involved in contributing to the SDGs; they already are involved through the work they're doing. Rather, the challenge is how to engage them in mapping the work they are supporting domestically against the larger global framework.
The first step in that process is to change the way we think about results and reporting and to continue to push our sector toward a more results-focused approach. Instead of pointing to one-off impact stories, dollars given, or simple outputs like the number of people served, funders need to focus on measuring how a situation has actually changed as a result of their funding. The SDGs help provide a framework for organizations, foreign and domestic, large and small, to do just that by offering a common taxonomy and set of standards that players across the philanthropic ecosystem can look to in reporting and measuring impact.
Measuring outcomes using a standard taxonomy not only enables domestic grantmakers — whether a large corporation or a small community foundation — to better track their efforts; it also helps to fuel collaboration in the service of better results. Without a shared taxonomy, two funders in the same community can be working toward a common goal and never realize that the other organization is doing similar work — or understand how their own work connects to a broader effort. In contrast, when funders and grantees use the same terminology to describe and measure their work, it's much easier to see how collaboration between two or more organizations can be leveraged into a regional, statewide, or nationwide initiative that connects to an even larger, global goal.
Connecting grantmaking efforts to the SDGs also enables funders to more easily galvanize stakeholders — community members, supporters, board members, employees, and customers — around the work they're doing. Showing that a small jobs training program for women in Detroit connects to a global goal of gender equality tells a powerful story. People tend to feel more empowered when they know they are connected to something bigger than themselves or their individual organizations.
Aligning grantmaking to the SDGs may seem daunting, but the good news is that the work is already under way and there are resources designed to help you. As a first step, take a look at the SDGs to see which goals and targets naturally align with your organization's work or corporate philosophy. The Council on Foundations provides material and information for domestic grantmakers looking to get involved with the SDGs, while the Foundation Center's SDG Philanthropy Platform makes it easy to share your progress toward individual goals and to review other funders' progress.
At Blackbaud, we are convinced that collecting and tracking data toward the SDGs will help lay the groundwork for more efficient and effective giving. In fact, it's only through serious, intentional data collection and analysis that we can benchmark our efforts and ensure that those efforts, no matter how small they may seem, are contributing to building a better world.
Annie Rhodes is director of foundation strategy for Blackbaud's Corporations & Foundations Group.