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The Power of One

A young girl walks along a beach collecting sand dollars that have washed up on shore. Still alive, they are destined to dry out and die in the heat of the sun. She picks one up and throws it back into the ocean. She continues doing this, one by one. An older man walks up to her and asks, “Why are you doing this? There are thousands of sand dollars on this beach that are going to die. What you’re doing doesn’t really matter.”

The girl picks up another sand dollar and hurls it into the sea: “It matters to this one.”

As an environmental educator, I often used this story to show kids that their efforts to improve the world, no matter how small, made a difference.

As a director of a nonprofit organization, the story takes on a different meaning. To the surprise of many, nonprofits—and the foundations, corporations and individuals that support them—focus a lot on the bottom line. And they use many metrics to gauge progress towards achieving the bottom line. Nonprofits measure profit, but that profit is reinvested into the organizational mission rather than distributed to shareholders. How metrics are used and what they actually say about the strength of a program are a matter of debate.

Youth programming, like what we do at Global Explorers, can be hard to evaluate. Global Explorers works with an independent evaluation team from Texas A&M University to learn as much as we can about the impact of our educational programs on youth. This research provides us—and donors—with valuable information about our program’s effectiveness.

Regardless of the research data available, it is common for a donor to feel that spending $2,000 on a single student’s experience is too much. Using their own metrics, foundations often need to show the value of their “investments” in terms of number of people served. That same $2,000 could make it possible for 20 students to have a single out of classroom experience in a local park. It’s hard to argue with this logic. But this is only a small piece of the larger picture.

What I have seen is that the Global Explorers program matters not just in the moment students are experiencing it, but rather, that it lingers in our participants’ minds for years to come. It informs their day-to-day actions, their decisions, and their career goals. It comes up in conversations with families, in job interviews, and in college applications.

The girl on the beach tossing sand dollars is a dreamer with hopes of making a difference. At Global Explorers we cultivate, educate and inspire dreamers. Dreamers who indeed matter. Dreamers who are already making a major difference in our world.

Posted by David Shurna  ·  November 19, 2010  ·  inspiration, nonprofits

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