The first post in the Measurement Series focused on the Importance of Measurement in a successful objective. This post is more specifically focused on understanding Impact Measurement to help define success in the social sector.

Basil defines Social Impact as the effect a program or organizational initiative has on the well being of the community, environment or individual. This effect can be positive or negative.

We often see community and social metrics fall into three categories: Inputs (think: dollars raised, hours worked), outputs (think: number of people in a program or number of solar panels installed), and anecdotes (there are many great stories of those who have had life changing interventions from social impact programs).

But let us consider a few specific differences between the commonly measured “output metrics” and the more difficult to measure “impact metrics”:

  • Suppose your program is dedicated to helping the homeless. . . An output metric might be the number of men and women housed each night in your shelter or the number of meals served this year. Your impact metric could be how many repeated visitors are no longer homeless. Put more generally, what positive change occurred due to your program?
  • Consider the social entrepreneur that hires people recently released from prison. Her output metric could be the number of men and women that she employs and how long they stay employed. Her impact metric could be the difference in recidivism of those that they hire and the community average.
  • Finally, lets consider a environmental sustainability network helping its members identify and implement sustainable energy initiatives. A common output metric is the number of new members each quarter or the number of initiatives implemented. An important impact metric would be the total CO2 emissions avoided in relation to their members choosing fossil fuel energy sources.

An important note: Tracking output metrics is vital to continue improving. However, the value gained by measuring impact metrics provides another level to your program development. By measuring impact we identify new, potentially more effective opportunities to support and improve the effect of your mission. There is the added benefit of sharing best practices to others interested. Not to mention, the potential fundraising benefit when communicating said impact to donors or investors.

Impact measurement can be daunting. It takes added resources, the appropriate data, foresight, and often an extended amount of time. With that said, the key to continued success in the social sector is simply to START measuring your impact with thoughtful data. There is some flexibility in how you define your impact and it must align with your own mission and objectives. And, as this impact revolution continues to develop, those that understand impact measurement will continue to shine.

Keep in mind, we will all get better with practice.

Jeff (Basil Founder)

Up Next: Aligning Your Mission and Impact Measurement Strategy