“How Do We Know: Defining Social Impact in Storytelling” at Northern California Grantmakers

We are long-time fans of Northern California Grantmakers (NCG), a regional funder affinity group that takes media seriously. And we couldn’t have imagined a better host than Google.org to co-convene “How Do We Know: Defining Social Impact in Storytelling (thank you Chelsea Seabron!)

All of the creative leaders who participated knew that  creative media  — digital storytelling, feature-length documentaries, “viral videos” and even our favorite, binge-able streamed series — is a must for 21st century funders and the causes they support. But we wanted to know: how do grantmakers make smart decisions about which storytelling mechanisms to invest in, and how do grantmakers measure the impact of those investments? Furthermore, what’s the impact of evaluation on the creative community itself?

The informal session, moderated by Active Voice Lab and scaffolded by Horticulture, was designed to support peer-to-peer exchanges around what Active Voice Lab calls “story literacy.” Julie Benello, Chicken & Egg Pictures, offered a 10 year perspective on their support of women filmmakers, and how they define “impact.” A case study on Ghost Town to Havana from Tere Romo, who was then at The San Francisco Foundation, demonstrated how films can spark direct donations. And Jen Rainin pointed out that Kenneth Rainin Foundation focuses on supporting the Bay Area independent narrative feature film community, not on the outcomes of the films they make. Although the conversation raised more (critical) questions than it answered, we loved the interactions. And NCG, a learning organization at heart, is now scrutinizing the participant surveys.