Influence vs. impact

I’m wondering if another way of thinking about the impact that foundations and nonprofits can have is in terms of influence.

Impact sounds big, it suggests two solid bodies crashing into each other. What was that other asteroid-threatens-Earth movie that came out at the same time as “Armageddon?” “Deep Impact.” Lot of fallout from impact, a lot of debris kicked up. Both bodies, once solid and intact, are changed somehow, and not generally in a good way.

Influence sounds more sinuous, less mass-y. It suggests flow, fluidity, influx – two streams joining together to become something larger and different, with the differences between them no longer as visible. Maybe influence is soft power and impact is hard power?

Impact is inherently ambitious, it seeks visible change; influence is less flashy, it often operates behind the scenes. But with our Twitter feeds and Facebook news feeds scrolling down our screens, influence is becoming more visible, being broken down into its constituent bits – building a presence, an influence one “Like” at a time.

Our metaphors matter, so I find myself wondering about the difference between impact and influence, and how such alternative concepts might, um, shape our thinking about foundations and nonprofits.


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One Response to “Influence vs. impact”

  1. The Blog Briefly Known as "Democratizing Philanthropy?" » Blog Archive » Influence and incentives Says:

    […] Previously on TBBKA”DP?”, I wondered about the difference between having impact and having influence. Impact sounds like two independent bodies colliding; influence suggest two streams coming together. Another buzzword that’s a euphemism for power is “incentives.” The gradual invasion of economic thinking into every corner of life continues apace; the power of incentives is one of the signal contributions of the dismal science to popular discourse in the past several years (witness the success of “Freakonomics”). […]

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