How this Memphis nonprofit is finding ways to make our charitable donations more impactful

Slingshot Memphis, an innovative nonprofit fighting poverty in new and creative ways, is supplying community members with tools and resources that get more mileage out of their end-of-year-gifts this holiday season. These new resources are enhancing and taking poverty-fighting philanthropy efforts to new heights.
 
I recently had a chance to speak with Slingshot Memphis CEO Jared Barnett and he breaks it down for us.
 
High Ground News: For those who don’t know, what is Slingshot Memphis? 
 
Jared Barnett: Slingshot is a unique nonprofit that is revolutionizing how poverty is alleviated. Unlike business, medicine, and many other sectors that have processes for measuring outcomes, the poverty-fighting ecosystem simply hasn’t. This has made it nearly impossible to know which services are most effective at alleviating poverty. How many times have we wondered if our philanthropy is making a difference? Slingshot has addressed this by developing a new methodology to measure poverty-fighting effectiveness so our community can know what services create the greatest benefits for people experiencing poverty.
 
We use this methodology to conduct rigorous "impact studies" of poverty-fighting organizations (typically nonprofits) in the community to identify their relative strengths and opportunities. An impact study is a 2–5-month process where we have numerous meetings with the leadership of the organization, analyze the data they collect about their participants, programs, and outcomes, and conduct an extensive review of relevant third-party research about similar programming. We've developed a proprietary rubric to evaluate all of this information and assign the appropriate impact result. We conduct these studies each year so we can measure changes in performance over time.
 
This new evidence helps empower organizations to better achieve their missions and helps ensure the people they serve experience the most benefits possible. It also empowers philanthropists, foundations, government agencies, and others to allocate their resources to the most effective poverty-fighting efforts. We think of our organization as a "poverty-fighting center of influence" that identifies opportunities and empowers any stakeholder interested in alleviating poverty with the evidence, insights, analysis, and other resources to do it most effectively.
 
HGN: Can you tell me about your programs and focus?
 
Jared: To achieve our mission, Slingshot performs four functions. These functions are the closest proxy to programs at Slingshot, as we do not provide programming directly for people experiencing poverty but rather work with the organizations that provide those direct services.
 
HGN: How do those functions break down?
 
Jared: In four ways. First, provide an objective understanding of what effectively alleviates poverty — and why. Our impact study methodology provides a standardized approach to measure the effectiveness of poverty-fighting organizations across four dimensions: Benefit-Cost Ratio, Systems-Level Change, Use of Best Practices, and Measurement Infrastructure. The first impact study provides a baseline and is updated yearly to capture changes. This work uncovers research that validates the most effective approaches and quantifies the benefits to learn which produce the greatest impact.
 
Second, identify evidence-based opportunities to enhance poverty-fighting outcomes. The research, evidence, analysis, and conclusions from impact studies enables Slingshot to help identify actionable opportunities to improve outcomes and effectiveness. These opportunities empower poverty-fighting organizations and funders to focus on improvements that can create the most impact. The impact study can measure if improvement efforts have led to increases in effectiveness. Slingshot also offers thought partnership to help organizations address opportunities for greater impact.
 
Third, provide an opportunity for people and organizations to invest in poverty-fighting organizations based on their effectiveness. Slingshot’s Accelerate Impact Fund enables the community to invest in poverty-fighting efforts based on the impact study results. Each year we invite people to invest and at the end of the year we allocate 100 percent of the funds raised to the organizations we work alongside. The allocation criteria are transparent: more funds are allocated to the organizations that have evidence of being effective as measured by the impact results and trajectory from their most recent impact study.
 
And fourth, disseminate the insights from our work to empower stakeholders across Memphis’ poverty-fighting ecosystem. Our website will serve as a curated source of resources that make it easy to find insights that enable others to be more effective in their poverty-fighting efforts. Slingshot will work with stakeholders to help them understand how to use the resources and insights in order to best achieve their poverty-fighting aspirations.
 
HGN: What can you tell me about the new resources you’ve developed?
 
Jared: These new resources are the reports we've developed about the effectiveness of the poverty-fighting organizations we work alongside. This is the first resource we are aware of that provides a quick, simple way to know how effective an organization is at achieving its poverty-fighting goals. 
 
The resources include a grid of the results for each of the four dimensions we study. This is a quick, visual way to interpret the effectiveness of an organization. The grid is designed to have lower impact results on the left and higher impact results on the right (i.e. the further right on the grid the more effective the organization).

Courtesy of Slingshot Memphis
For each individual organization, we include the following insights and resources:
 
  • A summary paragraph explaining how the organization helps fight poverty
  • The grid with their impact results
  • Program maps that visually depicts the flow of participants through a poverty-fighting program, showing the most significant interventions participants would experience
  • Impact trees that visually depict the potential poverty-fighting benefits participants would experience as a result of participating in a program
  • Two types of reports that detail the insights from the annual impact study for the organization
 
The first type of report is the Impact Profile Summary, a concise 1-sheet summary of an organization’s poverty-fighting effectiveness that includes an explanation of how the organization fights poverty, its impact results for each dimension of the impact study, highlights about each dimension (including changes over time), and opportunities for greater impact.
 
The second is the Impact Study Report, which is a more detailed understanding of an organization’s poverty-fighting effectiveness. It includes further details for the items contained within the Impact Profile Summaries as well as information about the impact study methodology to help contextualize the results and opportunities.
 
Visit Slingshot Memphis online to learn how to make the most out of your charitable donations this holiday season.

Read more articles by Jeff Hulett.

Originally from Chicago, Jeff moved to Memphis in 1990 not really knowing much about the south. In fact, the first week he lived here he was suspended from school for not saying, "yes ma'am" and "no ma'am." Jeff has since developed a passion for Memphis and especially Memphis music. A member of several bands including Snowglobe and Me & Leah, Jeff works as a communications consultant with many non-profits including Playback Memphis, Church Health, Room in the Inn-Memphis and BLDG Memphis. Jeff lives in the Vollintine Evergreen neighborhood with his wife and two daughters.