Wouldn’t it be nice if we could all speak the same giving, measurement and outcomes language? And wouldn’t it be even better if we could work together to grow that common language?

Picture this: Two giving organizations focused on reducing poverty—you would think they would be using a common set of terms, have similar approaches to measurement, and interpret those measurements the same way. Chances are, they wouldn’t. The reality is, there doesn’t seem to be agreement across the sector on definitions and measurement—we aren’t really speaking the same language. This happens all across the sector and aligning grantmaking organizations with their grantee partners has been a challenge at best and at worst has resulted in not being able to measure the outcomes and overall impact of the effort.

Time and time again, I’ve heard from funders:

  • We want to track outcomes but we don’t even know where to start or what to measure…
  • What are others in the space tracking?
  • How can we measure impact without it becoming a burden on our grantee partners who have to report to all their funders?
  • In the end, what is our impact on people’s lives—what and how have they improved?

Conversations like this were part of our journey in building Blackbaud Outcomes™, our transformational software platform that helps organizations measure their program outcomes and impact. After connecting with grantmakers, nonprofits, corporations, partners and independent consultants—more than 5,000 interactions over a two year span—we learned that one of the biggest hurdles in solving this need for the industry was the lack of a common lexicon.

That’s when we knew that collaboration—bringing people together and unifying them around a common language—would be a vital part of our solution.

We took our research along with decades of industry experience and created what we call a sector-sourced taxonomy of key performance indicators (measurements) built upon best practices from client funders, nonprofits and experts in the impact measurement field. This is the starting point for bringing people who are striving toward the same goal together. If two organizations are working toward the same goal, such as reducing poverty, they can help each other by learning from each other—and they can do that better and faster when they are speaking the same language. In addition, the sector-sourced taxonomy will continue to grow and improve as more giving organizations use it to inform their strategies.

Leveraging the power of a sector-sourced taxonomy coupled with access to best practices and expert guidance in developing results-based applications will empower the entire sector in making the shift from traditional philanthropy to social impact investing. And with Blackbaud Outcomes, we are providing people with the ability to collaborate through software, which will help organizations across the sector to have greater insight, and greater impact.


Michelle DiSabato is a Philanthropic Impact subject matter expert with more than 20 years of experience developing, designing and implementing multi-million dollar philanthropic initiatives and programmatic social impact analyses. She recently joined Blackbaud’s MicroEdge business unit to help the giving community better leverage technology in their efforts to measure outcomes and tell their impact stories. Formerly a corporate program manager, Michelle has worked with a wide range of clients in industries ranging from healthcare and finance to consumer products and entertainment providers, helping them align their giving strategies to meet both their business and social responsibility needs.

In her free time, she volunteers and also serves on the Advisory Board of A Fresh Chapter Foundation, an organization dedicated to healing the emotional scars of cancer by turning the page to possibility.

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