Recently a client told me that his business was too small to impact properly and that they would never be able to make the business fully accountable.  I was surprised as the ideas that we had been discussing about how he could improve and measure impact were not expensive and were definitely not hard work.

This got me thinking about other small NGOs, charities and social enterprises that might be thinking that delivering impact sounds good, but in reality it is more hard work than they can accommodate.

Impact isn’t complicated to measure (at least not at a top-line level).  True, I’m always going to tell you about the “gold standard”, but if you’re just a small organisation there are straightforward ways to get an indication of the impact that your activities are having.  Even as a “solopreneur” I have found tools and time to get feedback from my clients on how much of a difference I’ve made to their work and their beneficiaries.

So here are a few key points on how to make sure you’re having the impact that you intend to have:

  1. Make a register of beneficiaries, participants (with their permission of course);
  2. Ask for feedback: at the start and end of a course, the start and end of a support session, etc get people to tell you what they think – what they expect to change and what has actually changed;
  3. Set up online surveys and questionnaires.  Once you’ve got these up and running, data collection is straightforward.  Most online survey suppliers will also provide the analytics to enable you to interrogate the data without having a degree in statistics;
  4. Get a group of users or beneficiaries together and get them to talk about their experiences with your intervention;
  5. Listen to what people tell you and if you need to, think about making changes to what you do as a result of what they tell you – then ask them again;
  6. Share the results of what people tell you with others in the organisation, especially your board or leaders.  This information is so vital to making strategic decisions that they will thank you for this;
  7. Finally, use this information to plan future interventions that are tailored to your beneficiaries and users.

Some of you are going to tell me this is just common sense business R&D, and you’d be right.  The principles are the same.  The difference though is that for-profit businesses do this to make their product more appealing to customers so that they can make a higher return.  You should do this to ensure your “product” is fully tailored to the needs of your “customers”, so that you can make a higher impact.

The more you do, the more you can engage in more complex impact measurement.  But you have to start somewhere and you have to start soon.  Understanding your impact should be central to your organisation.  Otherwise how do you know that you’re making a difference and moving your organisation closer to its long term goal?

Do you find doing impact measurement difficult? Or time consuming?  Do you think its all beyond you?  What are your experiences with measuring impact?


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