Recently I was invited to speak at the digital edition of the European Third Sector Forum hosted by EUConsult Italia. I was asked to speak about the relationship between organisational governance and social impact. This is an emerging issue across Europe as civil society of all sorts gets to grip with understanding what social impact is and why its important.

It is worth clarifying some definitions up front, so that we’re clear on what we’re talking about.

Governance is often referred to as ‘the systems and processes concerned with ensuring the overall direction, control and accountability of an organisation’ (Cornforth & Brown, 2014).

While social impact is usually defined as ‘the effect of an activities on the social fabric of the community and wellbeing of individuals and families’ (Social Enterprise UK).  

This suggests that when we’re talking about governance for social impact, we’re actually talking about the systems and processes that the overall direction, control and accountability of an organisation works in support of the effect of its activities on the social fabric of the community and wellbeing of individuals and families (we should add environment in here too…).

To ensure good governance for social impact, organisations should focus on the following five success factors.

What does this mean for consultants and advisers to civil society working with organisations to ensure social impact?

  • Make sure organisations understand their mission fully
  • Interpret the mission through a Theory of Change or Strategic Framework
  • Operationalise the Theory of Change/Strategic Framework (they may have to change their business model to do this)
  • Measure performance against the Theory of Change/Strategic Framework
  • Ensure leadership (Board and Executive) is mission-focused

What about your own organisation – is its governance structured for social impact?


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