Building An Impact Strategy

An Outcomes Oriented Approach to Strategic Decision-Making

There is no clear path to impact, no straightforward journey.

It’s a web of routes with crossroads and decisions to be made that can either keep you on course, or ever so slightly pull you in the wrong direction. Organizations face competing demands and opportunities, all with a common challenge: how do you decide what to prioritize and which opportunities to pursue?

This is the story of the approach United Way of Larimer County (UWLC) – an organization that exists to address today’s greatest needs and strengthen communities – took to help their teams make strategic decisions that would align with organizational goals.

UWLC reached out to ResultsLab when the organization was in the process of making key decisions around its programs and services. During this process UWLC had a lot of questions – should it focus on a broad set of services areas, or focus more deeply on a smaller set; as community needs have changed, are its programs still relevant to those needs; what gaps exist in the community that UWLC has an opportunity to support? To answer these questions, UWLC realized it needed more data to inform these strategic decisions, and it needed a way to ensure that departments across the organization would know what to say ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to in the future. A process that would ensure clarity across teams, and keep everyone moving in the same direction. To get there, our partnership began with creating an Impact Strategy – a process to identify and document what impact UWLC seeks to achieve, and the roadmap outlining how it will get there.


Collective Insights: Elevating Voice


The first step in an Impact Strategy is deciding who is going to be involved in the process.  Knowing the purpose of an Impact Strategy is to align teams to work towards a common goal, it’s important that this process doesn’t happen in isolation. A powerful way to get teams on the same page is to create a depth and breadth of engagement, such as UWLC did.

From the start, UWLC wanted to ensure its core values around trust-building and equity were weaved into the process. To do so, we engaged key stakeholders – including staff and community members – that would help inform its Impact Strategy.


Setting the Roadmap: Impact Strategy


We worked with UWLC cross-disciplinary teams, which included staff across programming, communications, operations, and leadership, to define what impact looks like for UWLC and gather input across the different elements of its Impact Strategy.

Starting with WHAT UWLC was trying to achieve, the group was provided with a high level frame of the organization’s outcomes. They were then given space to bring up questions, points of discussion, and highlight points of validation.

From there we moved to WHO is UWLC trying to make that change with. For many organizations, there is often an assumption that teams across the organization are aligned on its target populations, but as an organization grows and changes, the reality is staff tend to have a broader understanding of its audience. Bringing the UWLC staff together was an opportunity to check the teams’ alignment on its target population and if any further definitions could be added to help clarify these targeted groups.

Then we took a deep look into the WHAT and HOW of the activities and services that influence the identified target populations and outcomes. During this process with UWLC, staff shared both what the organization does, and could do to influence outcomes – reflecting both on the current and aspirational state. While much of the work an organization does is important, it’s a necessary step to be continuously reflecting on what might need to be added, removed or changed to better achieve an organization’s intended outcomes. We then captured the ‘how’ and the approaches and capabilities that make UWLC unique in the way it delivers its services.

With this information, we pulled together an initial draft of UWLC’s Impact Strategy. With this draft, we wanted to do some validation on the strategy with UWLC partners through a survey and a series of focus groups to gather community input. This is a critical step to engage a diverse range of stakeholders, and enables teams to identify any potential gaps in thinking. It’s an inclusive approach that provides meaningful insights to shape and strengthen an Impact Strategy.

Equipped with community and staff insights, the team was able to collectively set the road map with a clear articulation of: who UWLC serves, with what services, realizing what outcomes and impact. This Impact Strategy established the foundation that would then help determine the data needed to show progress toward those goals.


The Results

United Way of Larimer County’s journey shows how an organization can begin to shift toward outcomes-oriented approach. With an Impact Strategy, UWLC had a structured mechanism to map their decisions back to their core question: “Is this in alignment with our defined outcomes?”

It illustrates how an organization can set up the guardrails that keep it on its path to impact, and make strategic decisions on what competing demands to prioritize, and which opportunities to pursue.