Through my fundraising journey, I have encountered quite a few people who ask me to put my goal into numbers. To consider it an “investment”, apparently I have to subscribe to some business-like metrics: what’s the ROI? What is the expected value? What’s the time frame? The answers have to be in some sort of number – a percentage, an increase or decrease, a pricetag.
But how do you put a price tag, or a percentage, on change?
Numbers aren’t always the best way to represent things. They are a method, true, and for some people that’s the method they work best with. That’s fine. What is not fine, however, is when people assume that numbers are the best (and often only) way to represent something: that if you can’t reduce your aim to a series of figures, it doesn’t matter. It’s not legitimate.
But life isn’t all about numbers!
How do you put a number on the Facebook message from a young man who thanked me for starting EducateDeviate because it helped him go on with life? How do you quantify my school junior who told me that because of my talk at school 4 years ago, she is now pursuing journalism and has been employed as a stringer? How do you put a price on the email I got when starting my blog from someone who was close to suicidal and wanted someone they could trust?
When people like Gandhi or Florence Nightingale aimed to create change, do you think they went “oh, I’ll ensure that there is an increase of 50% in patient recovery rates this year”? Or “with the ousting of England from India, we can get a 75% boost in happiness, bringing a great ROI!”? I doubt it. The true changemakers, the effective ones, do it to make change – they don’t get stuck in the numbers.
I read this on a blog some time ago – the writer was lamenting how now our role models were meant to be salespeople. While salespeople are good people, it is rather sad that we now have to plan our entire lives as one big pitch if we supposedly want to get anywhere. Prepare an elevator speech, so that you can get ahead while going to your floor! Never make a mistake! If you get involved in an activity, be the best you can be because your reputation matters!
Whatever happened to experimentation? To just goofing off and have fun? To being yourself, being honest? Why is it that I have to password protect a post because it may turn off a potential sponsor? Is honesty that repulsive? Does humanity not matter?
(Some of you dear ones may be freaking out over the public-ness of this post. I’m fine with this being public. If a company or person withdraws support from me because they take offense at my views, we wouldn’t be great matches anyway.)
Everything has to be a business – make more money, get more hits. SEO experts tell you how to get more readers to your blog, but does the increase in readers bring about an increase in positive effect, in change? Is it meaningful?
And why does everything have to tie back to making money anyway? What, it’s not worth it unless you get rich from it? Money’s an illusory concept. The value of money is subjective. What’s worth $50 to you may be worth $500 to me. But who’s the arbitrator of that? Who decides whether something is worth $19 or $21? The market, some of you may say – but who’s in this market?
I just finished reading The Overachievers and it’s shocking how often the lives of these students – with their own dreams, struggles, hopes, thoughts – were reduced to an exam score that essentially told you nothing about them but their test-taking abilities. It’s already not working for these students, who nearly kill themselves with stress so that they can gain an elusive number that somehow is supposed to be a ticket to success. Does the rest of your life have to be that way too? Does your change have to be in numbers for it to be effective?
There was a review in Have Fun Do Good (which I ADORE; absolutely recommended reading) for Grassroots Philanthropy: Field Notes of a Maverick Grantmaker by Bill Somerville. In the book, Somerville talks about how there is too much focus on numbers and reports, and not enough on those that actually create change. Want to fund those that make change, be a maverick grantmaker? Go to those who have the ideas and passion to make a difference, and help them out. Don’t wait for them to have to waste their time filling in a lengthy report for you before they’d even look at you.
Now that is the power of change. That’s how change is represented. Not through numbers. Numbers cannot say enough and it can never hope to.