Hi All. Jeff here.
Many of you are familiar with the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). These 17 Goals represent the “blueprint to achieve a better and more sustainable future for all”. However, if you don’t study them closely, you might not be familiar with the over 230 SDG Indicators. These indicators provide guidance for individuals and organizations to apply a more focused metric within their own sustainability mission. They are intensely comprehensive, yet don’t cover everything. Even the most well-funded, well-coordinated organizations have trouble aligning with only these indicators, so they create their own.
Here is where things get jumbled. As I continue to work with social organizations, I am humbled by the effort and energy that passionate people apply each day toward their mission. These people are the motivation behind this post. Their energy deserves to be directed in the most effective and efficient way. And to do that, it is imperative that the organizational impact objective is as defined as possible.
Recently, I consulted with a clothing line that has sustainable supply chain and also focuses on hiring women from low-income households. It was an AWESOME company to partner with. However, there is a TON of potential impact opportunity to just in that one sentence. You might consider each of these to be valid metrics for this company:
- Women in executive roles
- Gender ratio in overall workforce
- Economic development in low-income communities of focus
- Green house gas emissions
- Water consumption during manufacturing
- Consumer sentiment around product
Although its wonderful that there can be multiple levels of impact coming from one great organization, there must be a common set of objectives in order to coordinate resources. Just like any other enterprise objective, the team needs a common direction to know whether they are succeeding or just spinning their wheels.
Basil Data has focused on helping with the initial phases of measuring impact using real, thoughtful data. However, whether you are a nonprofit, social impact startup, social impact investing fund or the corporate social responsibility arm of a larger organization, it is crucial to align impact objectives internally AND with your overall organizational mission BEFORE you start collecting data
Here are 4 recommendations when getting started on impact alignment.
1. Identify your “VIG”
I read recently that a “vig” is slang for the interest on a loan shark’s loan. If you intend on using a loan shark, I recommend knowing this “vig” before you enter into an agreement with said loan shark. I am not referring to the same “vig” but it is still imperative that you identify your VIG (Very Important Group) right away.
Allow me to explain. . . Every organization has a few people that make the decisions on the direction of the company or an arm of a company. And most organizations also have a few people that influence those decision makers with pertinent information. The combination of these two groups is your “VIG”. The VIG has to be fully aligned on the objective once you start gathering and presenting impact data. Each member must completely understand the other member’s perspective on the impact objective.
2. Quiz the VIG
- How do we define success when measuring our impact?
- Is a story enough, or do we need to prove our impact quantitatively?
- Who are the main beneficiaries of our intervention?
- How important is our impact on the broader success of the company?
These are a few of the important questions that the VIG need to discuss and coordinate. Imagine trying to improve your impact when one executive considers equity the main objective and another considers the environment as the main objective? Where do you apply your resources?
Schedule the meeting(s), approach each question with the entire group, take your time, and write everything down. Making the assumption that everyone is on the same page will only lead to difficulties down the road. Don’t let assumptions get in the way of your progress toward greater impact. New executives might have different answers then those that have been with the organization since conception. There also might be new information that might influence the group. Ideally you can refer back to these answers when you start establishing the data collection strategy and hold yourselves accountable for the answers provided.
3. Identify your stakeholders
Consider ALL of your stakeholders – investors, donors, project managers, beneficiaries, executives, community members, etc. Once you start reporting your impact, you’ll want to share it with as many people as possible. “We’re doing great! Check it out!”
However, your stakeholders will have very different perspectives on what is good and what can be improved. Understand the perspective of each of these stakeholders and what they would like to see when provided with an impact report. Try to rank the importance of these stakeholders (hint: the beneficiary should be at or very near the top). Create a list of questions they might ask. It is also helpful at this stage to identify where your stakeholder’s goals coincide. Keep these correlations in mind throughout the impact measurement process. It will minimize extra work during the reporting process, especially when data is collected, visualized and reported.
4. Identify resources
Eventually you’ll have to get started on framing your strategy, collecting data, and communicating your impact. Whether you use internal resources or hire somebody (Hi!), the process is much more difficult when the organization is still identifying appropriate resources along the way. Choose a couple problem solvers and analysts, assign them a budget and get started!
Most people (especially millennials) are very excited to work on well-coordinated, mission-driven projects. LET THEM!
Jeff (Founder and Excited Millenial)
Thanks for you reading. If you need some help getting started, please don’t hesitate to connect. Jeff@basildata.com
Next post: The Benefits of Connecting your Impact Directly to your Mission.