One question – So What? – can get to the heart of why your program matters.

When I was in grad school, one of my professors used to ask this question when my classmates and I were creating objectives for the educational programs and lesson plans that we were preparing to lead: What’s the “So what?”

For example, if I said that the objective of my lesson was for my high school students to learn about Indian art and culture, my professor might push me harder. So what? Why does it matter for this group of students to learn about Indian art? A deeper, more compelling educational objective might be for the students to understand the intersection between Indian sand art and the Indian viewpoints on impermanence, which would help them better understand a character in a book we were reading together in class. Well… so what? If the students can understand that viewpoint, not only will they have a deeper appreciation of plot and character, but they also can chose to apply that viewpoint to managing the stress of their daily lives.

Sometimes, I find myself saying to my clients: What’s the “So what?”

When a nonprofit describes the value of its organization, its programs, or its approach to a potential donor… well, they may already be venturing down the wrong path. It’s not about the nonprofit. It’s about the client being served. And if the nonprofit is describing its objectives, they should be based in what matters to the client (or community, or place in nature…) and why it needs to change. For example:

A job training program: The objective isn’t just to train 100 people for jobs (although that’s certainly a good thing). So what? The objective is to put the trainees and their families on the road to self-sufficiency, so that they don’t remain caught up in a cycle of poverty.

A park cleanup project: The objective isn’t just a cleaner park (although that’s certainly a good thing). So what? The objective is to maximize the use of green space in the community and engage community members, in order to establish a sense of communal ownership and an ethos of respect for nature.

How do you figure out your program’s “So what?”

You can ask yourself a few questions to get at the deeper objectives, and benefits of your work.

What will be different because we’ve done this?

What really needs to change, long-term?

If we don’t do this program, will that matter to anyone?

Getting at the “So what?” will motivate staff and volunteers, inspire donors, and help you plan initiatives that really matter and have a greater chance of creating change. And isn’t that – change making – the “So what?” of any organization?

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