Impact Measurement 101

Social impact measurement is a key tool that organisations must use to measure their effectiveness, to learn from their successes and failures, and to improve and raise funds - yet there is no one-size-fits-all tool for organisations.


The 2015 survey Good Foundations conducted on what makes a not-for-profit well-run, showed that 78% of respondents use their own in-house framework to assess their impact. It’s true that impact measurement is still developing – to help you we’ve put together some key points for you to consider when taking on the task of measuring your impact.


1.     Know why you are measuring impact.

Are you reporting your impact to your funders, or clients? Funder-driven impact measurement often looks very different to client-driven impact measurement. Typically, we need to measure and report outcomes to prove impact to our funders; for our clients, it’s all about improving impact for them. It helps to be clear at the outset  about the priority we give to these two stakeholder groups. Thankfully we’re also seeing an increased appreciation of social measurement as a tool to improve performance (not simply reporting to funders) thanks to organisations like the Gates Foundation, Innovation for Poverty Action Lab and Acumen to name a few.


2.     Choose your measures by following key principles.

There’s certainly no shortage of things you could measure. Unlike the commercial world where everything mostly boils down to shareholder value, social organisations can measure impact in an endless number of ways. There are frameworks such as SROI that suggest even in the social sphere everything can be converted to dollars, but it’s an extremely fraught process to get there. Given that no single approach is right for all social enterprises, it’s more important to follow good principles in choosing indicators:

           - Relevancy – do they match your mission and objectives?

           - Practical and cost effective – the single biggest pitfall in impact measurement is trying to measure too much.

           - Useful – information you can actually use

           - A mixture of output, outcome and impact measures – here, it’s important to be clear about your theory of change


There’s no silver bullet to developing indicators that will be appropriate for your organisation, but use these points to start.


3.     Get your stakeholders on board from the start.

Buy-in from your staff, management and Board is critical. If data is to be used by key decision-makers (at whatever level) within your organisation, you need to get their buy-in to your indicators and methodology right from the start. They must be willing to change and act on what you find. If your data shows that programs or activities are flawed or failing there will almost certainly be resistance to the changes needed to improve outcomes. The most important decisions are often the most difficult ones – the easy decisions have already been taken.


4.     Question the data, challenge the findings, use the data.

It’s difficult to do, but embrace the imperfect. Often organisations get bogged down trying to produce academic-quality data and analysis, when ultimately the most important concerns should be more meaningful. Ask questions like:

           - Is the data useful to the key decision-makers in your organisation?

           - Does the data help them understand how you are performing, or take decisions that will improve how you are performing?

Typically, data collected will inspire more detailed or more specific research to understand causes and solutions.


5.     Publish – be honest and transparent.

Social impact reporting is not about stating what has worked well. It’s an opportunity to celebrate your willingness to learn from failures and mistakes. The news that programs have been closed down or partnerships ended can be viewed positively as a sign of an organisation striving to be efficient and professional. Engaged funders who really understand your program and risks will respond positively to bad news.


Overall, accept the limitations in your measurement framework. Invite feedback and input from external stakeholders. This may mean seeking out opportunities to collaborate with others in future impact measurement studies. Acknowledge that measurement is an ever evolving, ongoing process. You learn from previous experience to improve outcomes in the future. As the environment changes, collect new data to understand how best to respond.


If you would like to know more, don’t be afraid to reach out to us –


Thanks to Calum Scott, Global Impact Director at Opportunity International Australia for this guest blog.