I’m calling this series the Measurement series because I like to imagine the visuals that come to mind for different people. In the most basic application, the word “measurement” can conjure up an image of a tape measure or ruler. For the contractor, it might remind her of the common phrase “Measure twice, cut once”. In engineering, measurement can mean the air flow rate over the wing of an aircraft or fracture propagation on a bridge.  For the physicists, it’s reimagining the minuscule scale of atomic particles in nanometers. And for the astrophysicists, it’s the vastness of the universe in light years. Very cool stuff.

Measurement is so often easy to visualize for the experts in these types of industries. In all of these examples, the definition behind measurement is key to their respective success.  You may have heard the quote, “If you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it,” implying that you can’t know if you are successful unless success is defined and tracked.  Unfortunately, measurement to the community non-profit, the grant writer, or a sustainability project manager is too often difficult to clearly envision. Measuring impact is a common proposal but an arduous task to carry out.

Consider the following examples:

  • How do we measure the impact of our support for a teen leaving the foster system? Did it lead to them going to college instead of the streets? What if they end up homeless 5 years later?
  • How do we know our new lighting initiative is more cost effective and energy efficient than installing solar panels?
  • Was it the mailer or the door-to-door program that influenced more youth voters to go to the polls in 2018?

Success among these kinds of initiatives is no less important than the engineering examples above (arguably more important at the moment). The potential for impact is vast, but the level of this impact is often unknown.

Within the social and sustainability sector the argument isn’t if measurement is important. Although we all want to know that our mission and initiatives have a positive impact, measuring altruism can be quite nuanced. The hurdle is knowing where to start and defining what to measure. Identifying this hurdle is the first of many steps in measuring impact.

Next time someone asks, “What is the impact of your program?”, think about how and if you’re measuring said impact. Have goals been well defined? Do these goals align with your concrete objectives informed by your overall mission? Ask these questions now, so you can measure your impact tomorrow. 

Next week in the Measurement Series: Understanding Impact Measurement


Jeff (Basil Founder)