Impact assessment plays a large part in the work of charities, NGO’s and social entrepreneurs. Providing lots of data to prove the worthiness of an endeavour has become the norm.
Whilst it is important to make sure funds are being well utilised, I wish to offer an alternative to the current obsession with detailed data reports as the basis for funding choices, and offer a different kind of impact measurement that we can include in our investment decisions.
This approach places responsibility on the investor / donor and requires them to own how they use their energy (in the form of money) and their power, to create impact in the world. It puts the emphasis on relationship, connection and trust.
When I have donated to, or invested in a project, it is because I felt excited to do so. Something about it has touched me, enlivened me, grabbed my attention and there has been an inner knowing that some energy (often in the form of funds) wishes to move through me towards that thing.
I have then gone away and thought it through, researched it, and taken action, or not. The times when I have chosen not to act even when this inner knowing has been there, I have felt deflated, a bit empty, or perhaps sad. However, when I have acted on my intuition, even if it has felt like a daring move and a little “irresponsible”, I have felt uplifted, excited, happy and expanded.
The question to ask oneself is ‘what am I investing for?’ If you are investing purely for financial return, it is worth questioning the implications of this, and looking deeper at what you are supporting. If you do not, you are abdicating responsibility for your impact in the world. Focusing excessively on the financials could well be motivated by fear (fear of lack), or greed (but greed often has fear at its root), and this is not a positive energy.
Some other motivations for giving money that are not abundant are : out of guilt; out of wanting to be (or to be seen as) a good person; because everyone else seems to be giving to that cause; out of fear that something bad might happen if you don’t (the planet will die if I don’t support this cause) etc….
If I invest energy in something purely because all the reports and numbers tell me its a good thing, but my heart and my gut are not also engaged, it feels like a dry transaction. I miss out on an important return….. a return of joy, and a feeling of being part of something bigger than myself.
Investing with enthusiasm, joy and love, leads you into a naturally abundant state, in alignment with nature and its flows. I choose to see making investments as opportunities to enter this state of natural harmony. When I align with what uplifts me and place my attention on the positive return I am receiving right now, I already know that something good has happened, whatever the outcome. My focus is no longer on an uncertain future pay-off.
Part of being in this state of harmony, is an acceptance of uncertainty – the recognition that we cannot control what happens. In her book The Nature of Investing, Katherine Collins makes the distinction between assessing risk, (and doing our best trying to mitigate it), and acknowledging uncertainty and hence being prepared for anything. Risks are known possibilities, uncertainty is the whole range of everything else that could happen that cannot be predicted. The problem with focusing on risk (which is what most investors and organizations do), is that it is tied up with the human need to control, and can have the effect of closing down creativity and opportunity. As Collins writes, “Our efforts to control risk have been in direct conflict with building an adaptive, resilient system.“(1)
I beleive is often an inefficient use of resources to devote a lot of time and money making detailed impact studies and scientific proofs, when the money could be given directly to the community doing the work. The people running the project, are busy actually creating the impact, and would need to divert time and energy to produce reports. Often members of rural communities, particularly in emerging economies, do not have a high level of academic education. Gathering and presenting the kind of data that is demanded by funding bodies is both unrealistic and holds individuals and communities back. I have observed how it can also lead them to believe that without this capability, their work is not valid and they lose a sense of achievement, feeling beholden to external professionals to provide validation.
Undertaking studies and creating reports is a positive contribution, only when it is motivated by curiosity and genuine interest on the part of those making the study, and is grounded in a real respect for the work that is being done, and the culture in which it is embedded. Whether the research is undertaken by the individual or community doing the project, or by a university or external body, the foundation for the research will be one of passionate enthusiasm and the result will be mutual growth and understanding for all involved. (If the study is done by an external body, they will need to engage the local people in the design process for establishing the brief, so they are fully on board as collaborators).
So to summarise, here are the guiding principles of TRC investing (Trust, Relationship and Connection). They could equally be applied to any kind of investment, or decision making:
- Trust. Trust your judgement and assessment, using your whole body as a guide. Notice the beliefs you have around investing/giving, and anything that might hold you back from trusting what feels right.
- Relationship . Focus on relationship rather than transaction.
- Connection. Ask yourself “what am I investing for?” Notice the impact that making an investment or donation has on your physical and emotional wellbeing. This is your return.
It requires courage to leap into a different world where we act from a heart-centred, trusting place, but this courageous leap is a richly rewarding one.
At Earthlife, we wish to connect to collaborators and supporters who feel a unity of purpose with our vision, and who realise the value of following the heart and building relationships of trust and mutual benefit.
1. The Nature of Investing, Katherine Collins, pp 129-131