A strategic framework for thinking about impact

According to AG Lafley (former CEO, P&G) and Roger Martin, strategy is how you answer five key questions. These questions can be applied at every stage of a business and undertaking, from a Multinational Corporation like P&G, to specific regions, brands and products, even down to a specific function like social media marketing.

In every instance, it starts with articulating your specific aspiration.

I have adapted Lafley and Martin’s formula to help focus your strategic philanthropic decisions.

I believe this is a simple but powerful tool that I hope helps you to think about funding impact in a strategic way. The goal is to ensure that the work you fund is conducted in a way that can achieve your impact aspirations.

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Derived from AG Lafley and Roger Martin’s 'Playing to Win: How Strategy Really Works' (Harvard Business Review Press, 2013).


By Tom Dawkins.



5 Questions for Strategic Philanthropy:

1.     What is your impact aspiration? Ie. What is the future you wish to create? What does this look like, specifically?

2.     Where will you play? Where in the impact ecosystem do you want to play? Some people are draw to policy and advocacy, to the opportunity to affect systemic change, while others want to fund direct service provision or intermediaries to support innovative projects. Each of these have pros and cons and require different levels of investment. Is your chosen playing field a place where you can achieve your impact aspiration?

3.     How will your funding help the organisation achieve that impact? Ie. How will you succeed on your chosen playing field. If you want to change policy, what does this realistically look like? What has it taken in the past? Don’t expect policy outcomes overnight, it will take a sustained commitment to achieve outcomes.

4.     What capabilities must be in place? Does the organisation have the necessary leadership, relationships and model to deliver the outcome your want, such that the thing missing is funding, or do they need other forms of support? For example, if you want to scale a vehicle-based social enterprise you can’t just buy more trucks and employ more drivers, you will need to scale the management systems alongside them.

5.     What measurement approach is required? For some forms of change you can’t just create a numeric representation. Your understanding of your impact will best be served by a mixture of stories, data and design. Does your funding support this measurement assessment and storytelling?


The Key Strategic Planning Question:

At each level you need to honestly assess what it would take to achieve your goals. To do this AG Lafley and Roger Martin suggest the question “What would need to be true?”

This can be applied at every level.

If your impact aspiration is to double the amount of renewable energy in Australia in the next fifteen years, what would have to be true to make that possible?

If you decide the key is more capital to fund more projects, what would need to be true for there to be more capital available to projects? From there you might decide to focus on engaging superannuation funds or invest in a crowdfunding platform depending on which you thought would better fulfil your goals.


Consider Scale:

It’s important to remember that in most cases no one organisation can achieve your impact goal, especially if you’re the optimistic and ambitious sort, and your funds alone are unlikely to get the job done. So it’s worth applying this at a scale that makes sense according to your funds.

Eg. If you have $1,000 to give, your impact aspiration might be helping one person go to university.

If you have $10,000 your aspiration might be helping make sure every homeless person in Sydney gets a Christmas meal.

If you have $100,000 you might fund the pilot of a new approach to engaging street populations, or invest in a social enterprise providing training and employment to this community like StrEAT.

If you have $1 million you might seed fund an advocacy campaign to pass a specific piece of legislation.

If you had $10 million you might provide the certainty and flexibility of longer-term funding to an organisation showing real excellence and promise.