Ok, so this post is really aimed at a group of organisations or businesses: mission-driven organisations that need to demonstrate the impact that they are having. If you’re in this group, you might already be doing impact measurement. If not, and most are not, then it really is worth taking the time to set up a social impact measurement plan. Why, well for one, social investors and funders agree that understanding impact or outcome-level performance is crucial to understanding how effective a social investment or grant has been.
If generating evidence for funders and investors isn’t a strong enough motive, then you will want to know that developing a social impact measurement plan is important for three more reasons:
- It allows you to test your ideas and plan: are the predictions for change accurate and the interventions / projects effective? What changes need to be made?
- Annual social impact accounts are as important as annual financial accounts, especially for funders and social investors. This means that measuring social impact from the beginning is as important as putting in place all other fundamentals, like keeping accurate financial records
- Collecting rich and varied data will help you to tell a compelling story about your work, based on statistics and case studies that can inspire others to become involved.
So how do you get started?
There are five things to think about when starting out on measuring social impact:
- What outcomes are you planing to deliver and which do you need to measure – how important are your outcomes to your stakeholders (or the environment)? Start with your stakeholders: what do you know about them, why would they participate in your work, what motivates them and how does your work meet their needs.
- How much of the change that you want to contribute towards will happen during the funded period or investment period? Social impact change can take a long time, sometimes up to 20 years or more. Understanding what change might actually take place in five years or three years will allow you to manage your stakeholders’ expectations, your funder/investors’ expectations and your own expectations.
- Who experiences the change, and to what degree? Going back to your stakeholders: what change will each stakeholder group experience (if at all) and how much of that change will they experience.
- How much of the change that you want to contribute towards can you actually claim as a result of your work? Similar to point 2 above, not all of the change that your stakeholders experience can be linked to your work. No matter how involved or loyal stakeholders are to your work, they will experience influences from other sources. So think about what would have happened anyway and deduct that from the change you think you can achieve.
- What material risk factors are there and how likely is it that the actual change achieved will be different from the change you expect to contribute towards? In the context of social impact measurement, risk factors include principles, purpose, outputs, outcomes and impact classifications. Understanding how well your business model is aligned to your mission or purpose and the quality of your data will influence levels of social impact risk.
(You can find out more about these five points at https://impactmanagementproject.com )
There is a whole toolbox for measuring and defining social impact, including SROI, Theory of Change, Log Frames, evaluation methodologies, etc. At different stages different tools will be useful. Your measurement plan should consider when and how to use tools that are appropriate to your mission and your plan.
It really is worth putting the time in to design a social impact measurement plan: not only will your funders and investors be able to use the data arising from the measurement plan, so will you. You’ll be able to use the data to inform day-to-day decisions and design / development decisions – making your social enterprise or charity even more effective.
Do you need support to develop a social impact measurement plan? Then get in touch!