But how can we measure it?
Delivering social outcomes is at the core of what drives charities, not-for-profits, social enterprises, governments and other mission-driven organisations. We no longer live in a world where the sole focus of businesses and corporations is to turn profit without regard to the social and economic consequences. Increasingly, even for-profit organisations are required to demonstrate socially responsible, inclusive and community-focused outcomes.
So how can we actually measure this impact? How do we measure the overall outcomes we are generating instead of just reporting on our activities?
Measurement of social impact is key in telling the story of how your organisation is making a difference.
This is critical in raising funds, capital and donations and to attract investors, donors and supporters.
It is also important for program or service delivery. By understanding the change or impact your organisation is seeking to make and how you are measuring this change allows you to adapt and change course of action if things are not working. It helps to understand whether expended resources and effort are focused in the right places, aligned to the change or outcomes being sought and to those activities that will provide the greatest outcomes.
Here are key strategies to help develop your impact measurement and management strategy:
1. There are several different frameworks and tools that can help you. It is important to understand each of these and your organisations objectives for impact measurement. Make sure you adopt the right approach for your organisation, it must work for you and your organisation if it’s going to have value.
2. Use Theory of Change as a foundation to communicate the problem you are trying to solve and how change is expected to be created. How does an intervention or your program and organisational activities create the impact you are seeking?
3. Measure what matters by selecting meaningful impact metrics and really understand what it is you are measuring and why – this can be difficult, but very important to get right. You can define these by using well known standards or create your own bespoke metrics.
Standards include the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the Global Impact Investors Network (GIIN) Impact Reporting & Investment Standards (IRIS), Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) or The Sustainability Accounting Standards Board (SASB).
- Really understand what changes your organisation is generating – consider the changes your programs are delivering, clearly define these changes or impacts. For example, what do you mean by alleviating financial hardship or creating quality jobs? What do you define as financial ‘hardship’ or a ‘quality’ job? It’s not enough to measure the number of jobs your impact is creating, but whether the jobs pay enough to have a quality life or whether they offer relevant benefits such as healthcare and maternity leave.
- Involve your service users and beneficiaries to gain a full understanding of the value your organisation provides and to help you improve the services you deliver.
- Understand who you are collecting this data for, who wants to understand the outcomes of your program or project? Is it external stakeholders such as beneficiaries, funders and the public or is it for internal stakeholders such as employees and volunteers? Each of these stakeholders may be interested in the results of different metrics.
- Use a mix of quantitative and qualitative metrics to tell a comprehensive and compelling story. Use case studies and stories to demonstrate your impact and capture hearts, using quotes and videos always adds to this.
- Systemic or long-term change can be difficult to measure. Start small by understanding the more immediate or short-term impact of your work such as output and activity metrics, but try and also include a few outcome metrics as well.
- Be sensible and keep it manageable – choose metrics that make sense for your organisation and, make sure your organisation has the necessary resources and capability to collect the results for these metrics. Impact measurement should add value to your work, not distract you from what you do.
- Be consistent and regular in monitoring and reporting the results of your impact. Measuring soft outcomes may be difficult. Assessing your beneficiaries or service users using subjective and objective indicators before, at the end and then some time after may be useful. Again, it can’t be stressed enough the approach you choose should work for you and your organisation, embed the evaluation process into your day-to-day operations.
What will add value without detracting from your program delivery and your mission?
We foresee that pressure on organisations to demonstrate social value will continue to grow at an even greater pace than recent times. Measuring social impact can be complex, but tangible metrics are extremely valuable.
It’s important to get this right. Take the to develop the right approach to really understand your objectives and put in place an implementation plan that will allow you to start small and gradually build upon it.
Your impact assessment results will not only help you to better understand and progress the way you measure your impact, but to also strengthen this impact.
Insights from impact measurement can support improve your program/service delivery and operations is extremely invaluable in informing your strategy, operational model and business plan.
If you are a charity looking to better measure your social impact and wanting to learn more, please reach out to us at firstname.lastname@example.org to see how we can support you.